Fire testing laboratory helps advance novel nanocomposite material in the building and construction industry

Monday, February 1, 2021

You would rarely hear anyone say “game-changing” in the typically “conservative” construction industry. But thanks to the nanocomposite technology developed by Trusscore, this is precisely what is happening. They are working closely with Professor Beth Weckman who is a member of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN) at the University of Waterloo. Gypsum drywalls became mainstream in construction materials about 80 years ago, and it is now a massive sector. But gypsum drywall manufacturing uses large volumes of water and leaves an enormous environmental footprint during mining and manufacturing. The industry also produces an enormous amount of waste, only allowing a limited portion of used gypsum to be recycled. Gypsum is brittle and heavy, and long hours are required for installation, making it one of the least efficient steps in a construction process.

Waterloo Region Emergency Services Training and Research ComplexTrusscore has developed wall panels made of innovative PVC nanocomposite material. They are lightweight (save on transportation and back injuries), require significantly less time to install (save on time and number of labourers), and the installation process leaves the construction site clean and tidy—to mention just few advantages. Moreover, all the PVC left behind is recyclable.

UWaterloo Live Fire Research Facility's burn house

Any new product designed for the construction industry requires extensive fire resistance testing. This is where WIN member Professor Beth Weckman comes in. Professor Weckman leads one of the most advanced fire testing laboratories in Canada and her lab members set test fires all the time, in a controlled and closely monitored setting. When new materials arrive at her lab, the research usually starts with small samples burned inside a test rig. Many different parameters are measured, including smoke composition. Once results are satisfactory, testing moves to a larger scale. For construction materials, the fire testing culminates with burning in simulated wall configurations. For safety reasons, the lab is situated outside the UWaterloo campus, at the Waterloo Region Emergency Services Training and Research Complex, which provides training for regional firefighters and paramedics. Visitors can often see re-enactments of house or industrial fires and all the action that comes with it. “In my laboratory, we do not create new nanomaterials, but we closely collaborate with other researchers at WIN who are interested to learn how the materials they develop will burn. We are also looking to work with other researchers at WIN who are developing novel sensors. Our laboratory is always looking for new and better ways of monitoring the burning process”, replies Professor Weckman when asked why she joined WIN recently.

When Trusscore approached WIN, the choice of connecting them to Professor Weckman’s lab was obvious. The company was at the concept stage of developing new nanocomposite formulations but quickly moved into the gated R&D process during the challenging pandemic times. Ryan Gerakopulos, Trusscore Director of Research and Development, comments, “Having the ability to fire test product samples at every stage allowed us to condense development time into months versus the years it would usually take. We look forward to our continuing collaboration with Professor Weckman and other professors at WIN.”

If you are interested in collaborating with Professor Weckman and other researchers at the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, feel free to reach out to Oleg Stukalov, WIN's Business Development Manager.

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