How one company uses Styrofoam to tackle natural disasters

vero building systems

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Styrofoam is considered poor for the environment for a number of reasons — including how difficult it is to recycle, the chemicals involved in making it and the potential for animals to consume it. However, one company is using Styrofoam, along with concrete, to 3D print more resilient structures capable of withstanding more destructive weather that are, in some ways, becoming more common due to man-made climate change.

KXAN Meteorologist Nick Bannin spoke with the CEO of Vero Building Systems about their building technology that combines Styrofoam with concrete, and how they’re limiting Styrofoam waste in the process.

KXAN Meteorologist Nick Bannin: Annette, you have technology that combines concrete with Styrofoam to protect infrastructure during natural disasters. How does this work?

Annette Rubin, CEO of Vero Building Systems: Yeah, absolutely. So we are a U.S. based manufacturer, we manufacture “SCIP” panels. It’s called a Structural Concrete Insulated Panel. The core of the panel is going to be construction grade polystyrene or Styrofoam, if you will, with double galvanized steel wire mesh on the outside and then finished on site with shotcrete.

Bannin: So how does this work better than existing technologies for protection during an environmental emergency?

Rubin: So, our panels, once installed, are actually 250 mile-an-hour wind rated. So, in hurricanes, tornadoes, they’re much much safer than traditional building materials. They’re rated up to…a 10 on the Richter scale, and very, very fireproof, up to 120 minutes. So pretty much all natural disasters that we see here in the US…the SCIP panel is a phenomenal alternative to traditional building materials, especially when you’re talking about fire, or earthquakes, flooding all of that …talking about traditional lumber, the concrete forms a monolithic system that’s much much stronger than the wood. It can stand up to, you know, earthquakes, storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, all the above.

Bannin: Now, you mentioned one of the ingredients, Styrofoam, polystyrene. Obviously, it’s not easily recyclable, and it can have some negative impacts on the environment. How do you counter that?

Rubin: So we’ve not yet in the construction industry been able to find the perfect material that has absolutely no environmental drawbacks. But what we’ve been able to do at Vero is, we use no harmful chemicals, we recycle everything inside of our plant, and essentially, we 3D print your project. So there’s not going to be any waste on site and in the construction industry, waste is a really huge, a really huge issue environmentally speaking. We also have been looking into testing different types of polystyrene. So we actually found one manufacturer that makes a polystyrene out of banana peels and used cooking oil. So it cuts down on the petroleum in the very beginning of the process, up to 40%. So really, what we do is we, you know, we recycle everything inside of the plant. So any, any extra Styrofoam will grind that up, put it back into the block and make new panels out of it. And then we don’t send you anything more than you need on site, so that you won’t have to recycle anything on site.

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