Tag Archives: building

Progress has been made

It seems like only yesterday while at the same time it seems like it was last year when Ronald Omyonga challenged me to come up with a building product from plastic trash.  The reality is today, February 20, 2011 is day 104.  Less than a hundred days ago I woke up dreaming of making building blocks by baling them like one would bale straw or hay.  Seventy days ago we made our first block.  Today we made our first half block.  Half blocks are just as important as full blocks.

We need half blocks because our full blocks can’t be cut without losing their integrity.  We can’t use standard staggering of blocks to create structural strength without having half blocks.  Now we have a method for making half blocks.

What I wanted was a spacer that would displace half of a block in the recycled plastic block press.  I thought about it for awhile and this is what we have.

A single pin attaches it to the compression plate.  A nail, cotter key, or even a piece of wire is all it takes to hold it in place because the only pressure is the weight of the spacer itself on retraction.

The more I work with this press the more I like it.  I’ve fielded lots of questions about automating it with hydraulics.  I’m using an impact wrench instead of a ratchet to speed up the compression process.  It’s every bit as fast as a hydraulic method and it isn’t near as expensive to build or maintain.  All I need is a compressed air source and an impact wrench and the process goes fast.

Often I get the question about how to hold the small stuff like  plastic bottle caps, medicine bottles, single serving yogurt containers, etc. in the blocks.  I put them in plastic bags and then put the plastic bag into the press.  Here’s a good example of how it works.  I have a large plastic dog food bag.  I also have large pieces of styrofoam that was used in packaging flat screen television sets.  I broke down the styrofoam into pieces about eight to ten inches long.  They were still fat and wide, just not real long.  I put those into the plastic dog food bag.  I put that into the press.  I jumped up and down on the bag to get it to fit into the press.  Then I compressed it along with some bottles and other stuff.  I had a half block.

I like the idea that it takes imagination and skill to properly load the press to make good blocks.  That means some people are going to be better at doing that than others will.  The job of loading the plastic into the press will be a source of growth and pride for those that are good at it.  That’s a very good thing.  I’m not one of those people and I’m okay with that.  Those that find the job of loading the plastic rewarding would probably not like at all doing what makes me happy when it comes to working.

As I said a little earlier, the more I work with this the more I like it.  I’m working on a method for placing the blocks that I believe will not only make the recycled plastic block a good way to build houses, it will make the recycled plastic building block a great way to build houses.

Anniversary of sorts, January 10

November 10, 2010 was when I heard Ronald Omyonga talk about holistic housing at the Beck building in downtown Dallas for the Hunt Institute.  It was afterwards that he challenged me to come up with a product that could be used for housing construction and create commerce out of plastic trash.

December 10, 2010 was my first post on harveylacey.com about bottle bricks.

In two months time one thing after another has fallen into place.  We have the product, we have a working machine, and we have things coming together faster than we ever could have imagined.

It is amazing.

It’s the wire that makes it all work

One of the most common comments I get are about the use of the wire in making the block.  Usually heat or chemicals are suggested to make the block without the wire.

That is being done.  Peter Lewis in New Zealand is an aeronautical engineer and licensed architect.  Mr. Lewis has millions of dollars and about twelve years invested in his Byfusion system.  Watch the videos, read the story, you will be impressed.  A small Byfusion recycling machine will cost about $600,000.00 US.  It takes one kilowatt of electricity to make one block.  When volume is a consideration the Byfusion system is probably the most viable one out there.  Peter Lewis is a genius.

Our manual machine makes a compressed plastic block without any electricity or petrochemical fuels.  It transforms seven pounds of plastic trash into a seven pound building block, ten pounds of plastic trash into a ten pound building block.  There is no waste or loss of material in the compressing of the plastic into a recycled plastic building block.  It is one hundred percent efficient, ounce of trash, ounce of building block, no carbon based energy consumed.

I woke up from a sleep baling plastic blocks with wire.  That’s not genius.  That’s dreaming.  As I thought about it I realized that wire not only was perfect for holding the shape of the block, it also presented the best method to form a wall with the baled plastic blocks.  A couple of things need to be considered here.  One of them is my mind wasn’t working in a vacuum.  I knew wire was used to bale hay and straw.  The other was I  knew wire was used to help hold bales of straw together in strawbale houses.  Wire is also used to strengthen earth bag houses.

I appreciate that the recycled plastic block construction concept is difficult for most people to grasp.  That’s because most people aren’t familiar with earthbag home construction, strawblale houses, and compressed earth blocks for housing.  Those who are familiar with those methods of building shelters understand the recycled plastic block is another variation of what has been done to build shelters since mankind left caves and needed protection from the elements and predators.

The alternative to wire is either a mortar like conventional concrete and stone walls are put together.  Or there is the mortise and tenon fit method that offers a mechanical connection. Byfusion and Oryzatech use that approach.  Oryzatech also uses a contact type cement as I understand it.  So it uses the mortise and tenon and mortar approach to stack blocks to make walls.

I wasn’t able to form the recycled plastic blocks where the mortise and tenon approach would work.  Using all seven grades of plastic trash ruled out the use of a polymer answer to connecting the blocks in a wall.  So I was stuck with wire and re-bar.

This turned out to be a very good thing as I see it now.  The wire provides a more flexible connection than mortar or mortise and tenon connections do.  It also provides a stronger connection.  The wire method allows more creative shapes and designs of walls without sacrificing the integrity of the connections.  The wire connection I believe is in our genes too.  Before we stacked rocks I’ll bet we were tying limbs and grasses to make shelters.

The wire is what makes this system work.  It holds the shape of the block during and after it is placed in a wall.  The durability of the galvanized wire has been questioned.  The link suggests that it will last inside the wall almost as long as the plastic used to make the block.  It simplifies the construction process labor and material wise.  It takes less skill to build a shelter with wire than it does to lay a concrete block wall with mortar.  Concrete and mortar usually use cements that are not made locally.  They also consume petrochemical and electrical energy to produce, transport, and to build with.

We started the block box today

The day started with a visit to the Republic recycling center in Plano Texas.  There we loaded up some number 3 to number 7 plastics for testing the block box, aka bottle brick machine.  Tommy Kirk is the manager of operations.  He’s a toot, generous toot.  What is refreshing  is everyone that I encountered was in a good mood and friendly.  Evidently his personality and attitude is contagious.

They offered me some free barrels.  They’re number two plastic but too large to process so they gave them to me.  My wife wants some rain barrels so that’s where they might go.  The metal ones are for the farm.

You’re not seeing things.  There is some number one and number two plastics in with the three thru sevens.  Today’s spot price is $420.00 a ton for the one and two plastics, $150.00 a ton for the three thru sevens.

One of the things I’m trying to do with the block box is make it like someone would under more difficult circumstances.  So I’m using common tools, no fancy machine shop lathes, sheet metal shop presses, etc.  I’m also trying to use scrap stuff found around the shop.  So far the only thing I’ve purchased for the block box is the three foot ACME thread rod and nut, $69.00 with shipping.

The block box has to be made for high pressure.  Since I’m not an engineer I’m probably over building it.  And that’s okay, better that than having it break when a couple of thousand pounds of pressure is applied.

One of my concerns is the pathway for the tie wire in the block box.  The width of the box is eight inches, standard width for a building block made of concrete.  I had a fifty one inch piece of five inch channel.  That meant the block box would have a length of fifty one inches.  It also determined that the width between the tie wire would be five inches.

The first thing I did was bend the guides for the tie wires with my portable bender I use on the truck.

I found some two inch heavy wall square tubing.  It worked perfectly with the five inch channel to make the bottom of the block box.  I placed the tie wire guides on each side of the channel and three sixteenths or so below the face of the channel.  I welded bottoms up first.

The tie wires will have to be able to slide down the box as the plastic is being compressed.  That’s why I have the guides in the bottom of the box and the gradual turns going up beyond the end of the box.  We’re not using anything but the tie wires to hold the plastic block’s shape. That’s all I got done today, a round trip to the recycling facility and a little cutting and welding.

One of the most common comments I get on this is about automating the process.  That’s for the smart people to figure out.  What I’m looking to do is provide a method that will work when the people are unskilled, electricity is unavailable. and they want to build a shelter with what they have available that’s cheap or free.

If you Google Haiti, President Clinton you will find a ton of stories about his visit to a recycling center where they use similiar technology to what I have here for making paper briquettes for charcoal cooking.  If they had a couple of machines like the block box they could also make blocks for building shelters to sell.

Another common comment is about the value of some plastics.  I believe the block box block can be made with literally trash plastics, film (shopping bags) and styrofoam.  We might have to have some bottles at the ends but everyting in between I believe can be the stuff that goes to the landfill.