On Jan. 12, 2010, the Republic of Haiti experienced a massive earthquake which left thousands homeless, injured or dead. As reported by New York Times, “the [estimated] total cost of the disaster was between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, based on a death toll from 200,000 to 250,000.” The destruction was not limited to the population, but also the environment.

Now, a year later, the rebuilding of Haiti continues as part of an international effort for the “poorest country in the western hemisphere,” according to a BBC article. More recently, Tech professors Reginald DesRoches and Kimberly Kurtis have been researching cheap alternatives to building construction as part of a larger effort to reconstruct the buildings, shops and homes that once made up the country’s infrastructure.

As members of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, DesRoches and Kurtis have conducted the project with Joshua J. Gresham and Brett Holland, CEE graduate students.

Recently, “[the researchers] developed a method to recycle rubble into a strong construction material, which could be a possible solution for safely and inexpensively rebuilding Haiti’s structures,” according to a press release.

A New York Times article reported that “less than five percent of this has been removed since Jan., and even less has been properly disposed of…. The United States Army Corps of Engineers’ debris management plan says it would take a dump truck with a 20-cubic-yard bed 1000 days to clear the debris, if it carried 1000 loads a day—or about three years.”

For such a problem, DesRoches and Kurtis developed a research idea to use the problematic rubble and debris as starting materials of concrete.

“The concrete is made from recycled rubble and indigenous raw materials using simple techniques. And it meets or exceeds the minimum strength standards defined by the American Concrete Institute and used in the U.S.,” according to a press release.

“We have found we can turn one of the dilemmas—the rubble—into a solution via some fairly simple methods of recycling the rubble and debris into new concrete,” DesRoches said.

DesRoches himself is personally invested, as he is originally from Haiti. As part of the project, he and Gresham traveled to Haiti to gather samples and to study the techniques and tools used by local workers. They also engaged in recycling to eliminate the obstacles to reconstruction, which include getting rid of the rubble that is plaguing the streets and landfills of Haiti and finding a cheap alternative to buying brand-new construction materials. Reusing the rubble also eliminated the costliness of clearing and storing rubble in landfills.

“I feel fortunate to have been involved in this research because it demonstrates that the rubble which continues to impede redevelopment in Haiti can actually be used in the reconstruction effort. We are hopeful that this research will spur reuse of concrete rubble, when appropriate, in new construction in Haiti,” Kurtis said.

The team hopes to share its study with government officials of Haiti and any organizations that are working with the reconstruction of the country. The hope is to help Haiti develop strong materials for construction and to speed along the recovery of the nation.