Asbestos converted for use as building material in 'world first'

A recycling business has devised a process for converting asbestos into a new material that can be used safely as a construction product.

Thermal Recyling, which opened a demonstration plant last month, says it is the first company in the world to offer an environmentally responsible alternative to landfill disposal of the deadly material.

The Wolverhampton-based treatment facility converts cement roof sheets containing chrysotile asbestos, which account for around 60% of asbestos taken to landfill, according to Thermal Recycling chairman Graham Gould.

"Thermal treatment changes the chemical and physical composition of the asbestos," he said. "The asbestos-free substance left over, which contains calcium, aluminium and magnesium (as silicates, carbonates, sulphates and oxides) and has been dubbed 'Calmag', is then crushed for use a building material."

Gould, who has been working on the project for a decade, says the process follows Environment Agency (EA) protocols.

"We used EA methodology to produce a sampling plan, and analysed 50 samples, which showed that the substance created by the process has achieved 'end of waste status', which means it is no longer classed as waste and can be a product," Gould said. "We have also registered it with the European Chemicals Agency. The testing was carried out at the Health & Safety Executive's commercial laboratory in Buxton, which is recognised as the 'gold standard' for testing of asbestos."

Gould says Thermal Recycling has identified roads and roofing – following discussions with the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC) – as potential uses for the Calmag material.

"We have received a £65,000 'smart' grant from Innovate UK to investigate other potential uses for the product in the construction industry," he added.

Gould says the conversion process can be run on an industrial scale, and he plans to expand Thermal Recycling with a network of plants around the UK.

Kevin Taylor, president of the NFRC and managing director of BRC Roofing, said: "The NFRC welcomes this leading-edge technology with the potential for a more sustainable approach to the disposal of asbestos. It is vital that we divert waste from landfill and reduce the number of sites containing asbestos."

Asbestos is responsible for the deaths of around 5,000 workers each year. Around 20 tradesmen die each week as a result of past exposure to asbestos. Asbestos can be found in any building built in the UK before the year 2000, including houses, factories, offices, schools and hospitals. Currently asbestos waste has to be disposed of by a registered waste carrier at a licensed disposal site.

This article originally appeared on Construction Manager, written by Will Mann

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