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Detroit Mercy civil engineer builds environmentally friendly construction materials for developing countries

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September 05, 2017

Shelter is one of the most basic human necessities, but all too often, it is inaccessible to people in developing countries due to lack of resources. University of Detroit Mercy civil engineering doctoral student Aubin Fossouo, S.J., hopes to change that.

He is currently engineering and testing bricks consisting of soil, bamboo fibers and waste oil local to his native country, Cameroon.

“Growing up I saw my grandmother’s house wasn’t in good shape,” recalled Fossouo. “I grew up with the idea that we can do better. There is a way that we can improve this.”

With that childhood goal in mind, Fossouo, whose background is in physics, decided to further his education in civil engineering in order to create better building materials, made from environmentally friendly and locally available sources.

“Bricks are a basic material for construction in most of the countries I visited,” he said.  “Most of the time, they are not good, and the houses don’t last long.”

Fossouo’s research started with analyzing the local soil from his hometown in Cameroon. After he determined the percentages of sand and clay, he was able to replicate the composition in a laboratory at Detroit Mercy. His replicated soil provides the base for his bricks, with dried bamboo fibers added to the mix for reinforced strength.

Then, instead of firing them in a kiln, his bricks are air dried for a month. At that time, he will test the brick strength.

Right now, he is experimenting with the amount of bamboo fiber to use; his test batches have contained between zero and seven percent.

“The goal is to find out which ratio of bamboo provides the maximum brick strength,” he explained.

Some of his test batches have also contained oil to help repel water.

“If I get the results I’m expecting, it means significant improvement in strength,” said Fossouo.  “The next step would be to share this with the local people. My goal is to create an accessible and better building brick to improve the quality of life.”

Fossouo's research has the potential to change lives, but he remains humble in his ambition. “We all share the same basic human need: a house for shelter and safety for family,” he said.  “I want to help people.”

Fossouo's co-academic advisors are Dr. Alan Hoback, PE, civil engineering professor at Detroit Mercy and Dr. Mark Aschheim, PE, chair of civil engineering at Santa Clara University.

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