Watershed Materials Develops Clay Masonry Twice as Strong as Concrete

Geopolymer is stronger than Portland concrete and has a very low-carbon footprint
Geopolymer is stronger than Portland concrete and has a very low-carbon footprint

California-based startup Watershed Materials, with support from the National Science Foundation, has spent the last four years researching and developing a concrete alternative. Currently, their studies have produced a masonry created with natural, mineral based geopolymers, that has incredible strength and very low-carbon footprint.

The base of the material lies within the use of natural clays, found locally across the entirety of the earth. Watershed’s research discovered properties within these soils that could potentially be activated in geopolymer reactions. The minerals had been previously overlooked for their lack of immediate binding capabilities; a problem solved by changing the clay’s chemical structure. The result is a long lasting, high-compressive strength, weather-resistant concrete alternative.

Rather than relying on industrial waste products, watersheds’ technology utilizes its surroundings. Natural clays — previously, waste — sourced from quarry and mining operations, construction site excavations or demolitions can all be activated to form the material. Unlike conventional concrete which relies on virgin mined rock that’s washed of all color variations, watersheds’ alternative celebrates local diversity. Thus when produced in say, Estonia, the result will look different then what’s made in Brazil. Homogenization be gone!

Obviously, its acceptance in the building community relies on its practical value. During compressive strength testing, the current technology failed after an exertion of 100,000lbs of force. Essentially, this equates in a compression capacity of 7,000psi — twice the strength of ordinary concrete and 350% stronger than typical requirements. Thanks to chemistry used in the process, the clay-based masonry is also highly resistant to shrinking and swelling caused by dry-wet cycling. Also unlike conventional materials, is the temperature required to make it. Waste heat from manufacture is so nominal compared to traditional methods, that almost all of it can be reclaimed and used again.”

Read more at the source: Design Boom

Special thanks to Jim for finding this story.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for this to appear in your local building supply center. My Geopolymer House Blog documents numerous similar geopolymer products that have been struggling for years to come to market with competitive pricing. It’s true, geopolymer is stronger, faster setting, has higher chemical resistance, is more durable, more fire resistant and has lower environmental impact than typical concrete. The biggest obstacle seems to be getting hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a processing plant that’s competitive with Portland cement. It’s a daunting challenge to compete head on against giant cement companies. One possible workaround is making your own geopolymer with local materials. My blog lists quite a few recipes that I’ve gleaned from the Internet. The trouble with this approach is it takes a lot of testing and experimenting to come up with a suitable mix. Another business possibility is developing a small batch plant system that could be licensed to investors. So in summary, geopolymer still isn’t practical yet for most natural builders even though I firmly believe it’s the wave of the future. Check local companies to find out current prices. Every geopolymer company to my knowledge is listed on my geopolymer blog.

3 thoughts on “Watershed Materials Develops Clay Masonry Twice as Strong as Concrete”

  1. From the link that Alex sent:
    Masonry produced with this technology will use less energy to produce, uses no cement, no fly ash, no blast furnace slag, requires no high temperature kilning, incorporates no dyes or colorants, and will open up previously overlooked, widely available natural and recycled materials as ideal for the production of durable building materials.

    Find out more at http://watershedmaterials.com

    Here’s some news from their website:
    Watershed Block are available in Northern California and are being specified by architects on commercial and residential projects. Watershed Blocks express the color palette and material composition of local soils that vary region by region.

    This is VERY good news. It means their process is further along than I thought. They must have passed ASTM testing. The story is now in the New York Times and major architecture magazines. I’ll keep an eye on this. It might warrant an update in the near future. Note however that the blocks currently for sale contain about 50% cement, so they haven’t achieved their goal yet of totally eliminating Portland cement.

  2. Hi Owen –

    Thanks for posting this article, and thanks Jim for sending it in from designboom. If you’re interested, here’s the original press release (designboom took some wide liberties with re-writing the story) : http://www.prweb.com/releases/watershed-materials/geopolymer-masonry/prweb12884129.htm

    Owen, you’re right about the long road to product development with geopolymers. One thing that’s truly different with our product is the source of raw materials is natural clay minerals, which no one has has figured out how to do. Most other geopolymers are focused on fly ash, blast furnace slag, or other highly processed materials like metakaolin.

    While some really awesome companies like CalStar have made geopolymer block from fly ash, they have gone the route you’ve mentioned of raising lots of money (maybe not hundreds of millions, but still a lot) to set up large production facilities co-located next to coal burning power plants. What’s different with our technology is that the production can be democratized, set up in smaller much more local, cheaper production facilities co-located next to waste aggregate at quarries or mines or construction sites. Our input material is much more widely available, so production facilities can be smaller, lighter, cheaper, and more widely distributed.

    The proof is in the final commercial application, and we recognize the difficulties of achieving that. However, the goal is to accomplish something with a much lower financial requirement to roll out as more lightweight regional production.

    Stay tuned and thanks for the writeup. Really helpful to our mission.


    Watershed Materials

    • This is great news. Thanks for writing Alex. As you can tell from my geopolymer blog, I’ve been following this subject for quite some time. I quit posting on that blog though because it got a bit discouraging. There’s so much potential with geopolymer! And yet it seems like the industry was stalling out. Hopefully Watershed Materials is able to break through the barriers.

      Out of curiosity, are you using ‘crusher fines’ — the residue from processing sand and gravel? This low cost material is often used in earthbag building. Just imagine if some of your geopolymer could be mixed in and turn it to concrete. That would be a huge breakthrough — a true design boom.

      PLEASE keep us posted.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.