Gazan engineer develops technique to turn soil into cement

A Gazan engineer may have found a temporary solution to the lack of construction materials available for rebuilding in the wake of last summer’s war. 

Imad al-Khalidi, a soil expert, has been experimenting since 2008 on alternatives to cement, imports of which have been restricted by Israel for the past seven years.

He told the Washington-based Al-Monitor website: "We wanted to use local materials as an alternative, to save ourselves and provide the displaced with shelters, as nearly 5,000 housing units were destroyed in the 2008 war. We examined various types of soil in Gaza, and found a suitable type rich in natural welding materials, such as potassium carbonate, magnesium, metal oxides, limestone and sand."

Khalidi’s process works by pressing the soil that is mixed with "natural welding" materials such as potassium carbonate, ground limestone and a small quantity of gypsum. According to Khalid, a brick made this way "continues to solidify for hundreds of years, and to harden dozens of times more than its initial form".

In 2009, Khalidi opened his own factory to produce local bricks in different sizes. At first, he designed machinery operated manually, then he created hydraulic machinery.

"We have evolved, and we are now only relying on automated pressure systems. As some donor institutions demanded services to accommodate those affected by the wars, the work has increased in our factory with a production capacity reaching up to 50,000 bricks per day," he said.

Donors have pledged $5bn to the rebuilding of Gaza, however this is conditional on the ability to import materials into Gaza. Israel controls the import of construction materials and equipment on the grounds that the Hamas government will use it to construct tunnels and other defensive structures.

Palestinian officials say the restrictions have made it impossible to rebuild, leaving 40,000 of the strip’s 1.8 million residents in temporary shelter and thousands more facing winter in barely habitable ruins.

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