In Asia, and in Taiwan especially, drinking bottled tea has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. Although the number of recycling programs is increasing, they cannot keep up with the rampant consumption of PET bottles.

What happens to those left over? Most are incinerated, leading to high carbon emissions. This problem proved inspirational for Arthur Huang, CEO of Miniwiz, who asked himself: “How can we take all these bottles and turn them into an environmental product?”

Huang, himself an architecture graduate from Cornell and Harvard, naturally looked to building design for the answer. He noted that materials such as Low-E glass and high-end BIPV systems (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) are, due to cost, only used in class A offices, which account for less than two per cent of the world’s total construction.

“The rest of the earth is covered with very ugly factories,” says Huang, “the whole idea is to keep material costs down to a level that even factories can use.” He wanted to find a cost-effective material that was strong, yet light and portable enough to be made into pre-fabricated panels. It was only a matter of time before he put two and two together and the idea of POLLI-brick was born.

An idea is one thing, but it takes a lot more to turn one like this into a reality. Luckily, the team at Miniwiz is comprised of chemical, structural and mechanical engineers with a couple of architects and industrial designers thrown into the mix. This cross-disciplinary approach has seen POLLI-bricks move from paper to the construction site in a matter of three years.

First came the question of how to actually process the PET. “We take trash – in this case PET bottles – and chemically re-engineer it into tiny pellets,” says Huang. “The pellets are then put through injection moulding and blown up into these structural shaped bricks. They can be mass-produced quickly and cheaply compared to glass because of the lower temperatures needed.”

From a cross-sectional view, each POLLI-brick looks like a snowflake. Sheer, ninety-degree grooves on the sides ensure that the bricks lock naturally together, resisting movement. Once locked into place, they form panels that resemble giant pieces of honeycomb.

“It is the geometry of the brick that gives it its strength,” explains Huang, “it allows us to keep the thickness of the POLLI-brick to 1mm, making it very light. The honeycomb formation also adds strength because when you push down, all the forces are being transferred.

"We did a test where we made one of our POLLI-brick panels into a bridge and asked people to jump up and down on it. It stayed firm. It was basically a bridge made of air.”

This air-like quality transforms the POLLI-bricks from a mere building material into an object of beauty. “The trick of this material is that it is both transparent and insulating. Most insulation is ugly. Now you can have an insulating wall that is also see-through, and that is very special,” says Huang.

Unlike most other architectural panels on the market, which are extruded, POLLI-bricks are made using a combination of injection and blow moulding, which gives rise to their unique ‘container’ shape. This is crucial to their structure, because materials can now be trapped inside.

With 260 litres of air contained in every square metre of POLLI-brick panel, the thermal resistance value of the wall therefore becomes very high. With a heat transfer system of approximately 1.7m/kw, POLLI-bricks are far more efficient than glass, which famously loses heat quickly.

And it’s not just air that can be contained inside the POLLI-bricks. Fill them with water, with LED lighting, or even with flowers, the decorative possibilities are endless and an interior designer’s dream.

Fill them with sand or earth and instantly they become load bearing, like concrete. This incredible versatility means that they can be used for numerous applications including curtain walls, structural walls, roofs, columns, skylights or fencing.

But are they safe? In theory, yes. They have passed local and international earthquake tests and wind-tunnel tests with flying colours. However, the first full-scale application test of this new material will be at the Taiwan International Flora Expo in 2010.

Here, POLLI-bricks will be used to construct a huge fashion pavilion, standing thirty metres high, eighty-five metres long and forty-five metres wide.

“The building will be like a human body,” explains Huang, “with a skeleton made out of steel, and POLLI-bricks forming the skin system. It will have solar panels on the roof, which will power 40 000 embedded LED’s, transforming this huge wall into a light circus.”

Covering the wall will be fire-retardant polycarbonate (PC) sheets housed in the same kind of protective film used in LCD panels. Scratch-resistant and anti-static, these will aid cleaning and maintain the beauty of the building.

Expo-goers are surely in for a spectacle, but what happens when it’s all over? It seems an awful lot of work for a two-week event. “It is designed to be a fully portable building,” says Huang, “all the joints move and the POLLI-brick panels are designed to fit inside shipping containers.”

The lightness of the POLLI-bricks aids their portability: at only seventy-two kilograms per square metre, they weigh half as much as glass, but are far less fragile. “This will be the lightest building in the world,” claims Huang.

According to him, it might also be the greenest. “If one of the tests focused on carbon emissions then we would do well because the manufacture of POLLI-bricks is non carbon intensive,” he explains. “And, of course, now we are using 100 per cent recycled material so the carbon footprint becomes even smaller. Plus our POLLI-brick manufacturing machines are so small that they can be moved on-site, reducing transportation pollution.”

Such green credentials are hardly surprising for a company that is better known for its handheld gadgets powered by renewable energies. Their latest product, the HYmini Biscuit, is a tiny universal charger/adapter that harnesses wind and solar power to recharge appliances such as MP3 players and PDAs.

Although on a much smaller scale, the technology inside products like this is similar to that used in the BIPV and LED systems, which Miniwiz are developing to compliment their POLLI-brick architecture.

Wattle and daub, sticks and stones, timber, brick, concrete, steel, glass and now recycled PET. Building materials have changed immeasurably throughout history, and now maybe, just maybe, an all-new one has arrived for the twenty-first century. 

 Huang, himself an architecture graduate from Cornell and Harvard, naturally looked to building design for the answer. He noted that materials such as Low-E glass and high-end BIPV systems (Building Integrated Photovoltaics) are, due to cost, only used in class A offices, which account for less than two per cent of the world’s total construction.

“The rest of the earth is covered with very ugly factories,” says Huang, “the whole idea is to keep material costs down to a level that even factories can use.” He wanted to find a cost-effective material that was strong, yet light and portable enough to be made into pre-fabricated panels. It was only a matter of time before he put two and two together and the idea of POLLI-brick was born.

An idea is one thing, but it takes a lot more to turn one like this into a reality. Luckily, the team at Miniwiz is comprised of chemical, structural and mechanical engineers with a couple of architects and industrial designers thrown into the mix. This cross-disciplinary approach has seen POLLI-bricks move from paper to the construction site in a matter of three years.

First came the question of how to actually process the PET. “We take trash – in this case PET bottles – and chemically re-engineer it into tiny pellets,” says Huang. “The pellets are then put through injection moulding and blown up into these structural shaped bricks. They can be mass-produced quickly and cheaply compared to glass because of the lower temperatures needed.”

From a cross-sectional view, each POLLI-brick looks like a snowflake. Sheer, ninety-degree grooves on the sides ensure that the bricks lock naturally together, resisting movement. Once locked into place, they form panels that resemble giant pieces of honeycomb.

“It is the geometry of the brick that gives it its strength,” explains Huang, “it allows us to keep the thickness of the POLLI-brick to 1mm, making it very light. The honeycomb formation also adds strength because when you push down, all the forces are being transferred.

"We did a test where we made one of our POLLI-brick panels into a bridge and asked people to jump up and down on it. It stayed firm. It was basically a bridge made of air.”

This air-like quality transforms the POLLI-bricks from a mere building material into an object of beauty. “The trick of this material is that it is both transparent and insulating. Most insulation is ugly. Now you can have an insulating wall that is also see-through, and that is very special,” says Huang.

Unlike most other architectural panels on the market, which are extruded, POLLI-bricks are made using a combination of injection and blow moulding, which gives rise to their unique ‘container’ shape. This is crucial to their structure, because materials can now be trapped inside.

With 260 litres of air contained in every square metre of POLLI-brick panel, the thermal resistance value of the wall therefore becomes very high. With a heat transfer system of approximately 1.7m/kw, POLLI-bricks are far more efficient than glass, which famously loses heat quickly.

And it’s not just air that can be contained inside the POLLI-bricks. Fill them with water, with LED lighting, or even with flowers, the decorative possibilities are endless and an interior designer’s dream.

Fill them with sand or earth and instantly they become load bearing, like concrete. This incredible versatility means that they can be used for numerous applications including curtain walls, structural walls, roofs, columns, skylights or fencing.

But are they safe? In theory, yes. They have passed local and international earthquake tests and wind-tunnel tests with flying colours. However, the first full-scale application test of this new material will be at the Taiwan International Flora Expo in 2010.

Here, POLLI-bricks will be used to construct a huge fashion pavilion, standing thirty metres high, eighty-five metres long and forty-five metres wide.

“The building will be like a human body,” explains Huang, “with a skeleton made out of steel, and POLLI-bricks forming the skin system. It will have solar panels on the roof, which will power 40 000 embedded LED’s, transforming this huge wall into a light circus.”

Covering the wall will be fire-retardant polycarbonate (PC) sheets housed in the same kind of protective film used in LCD panels. Scratch-resistant and anti-static, these will aid cleaning and maintain the beauty of the building.

Expo-goers are surely in for a spectacle, but what happens when it’s all over? It seems an awful lot of work for a two-week event. “It is designed to be a fully portable building,” says Huang, “all the joints move and the POLLI-brick panels are designed to fit inside shipping containers.”

The lightness of the POLLI-bricks aids their portability: at only seventy-two kilograms per square metre, they weigh half as much as glass, but are far less fragile. “This will be the lightest building in the world,” claims Huang.

According to him, it might also be the greenest. “If one of the tests focused on carbon emissions then we would do well because the manufacture of POLLI-bricks is non carbon intensive,” he explains. “And, of course, now we are using 100 per cent recycled material so the carbon footprint becomes even smaller. Plus our POLLI-brick manufacturing machines are so small that they can be moved on-site, reducing transportation pollution.”

Such green credentials are hardly surprising for a company that is better known for its handheld gadgets powered by renewable energies. Their latest product, the HYmini Biscuit, is a tiny universal charger/adapter that harnesses wind and solar power to recharge appliances such as MP3 players and PDAs.

Although on a much smaller scale, the technology inside products like this is similar to that used in the BIPV and LED systems, which Miniwiz are developing to compliment their POLLI-brick architecture.

Wattle and daub, sticks and stones, timber, brick, concrete, steel, glass and now recycled PET. Building materials have changed immeasurably throughout history, and now maybe, just maybe, an all-new one has arrived for the twenty-first century. 

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