Construction materials are getting smarter and smarter. Every day we feel like we’re reading about a new way to build. Whether it’s plant based energy sources or concrete that can heal itself in the rain, the construction industry is constantly innovating to make our lives easier, cheaper and more sustainable.
But with so much emphasis on the innovations of tomorrow, what about the innovations of yesteryear?
Pykrete is a frozen composite material made famous in WW2.
Made from 14% sawdust or wood pulp and 86% ice, Pykrete is comparable to concrete so long as the freezing temperature is maintained.
During WW2 Geoffrey Pyke proposed the material to create a supersized aircraft carrier for the British Navy. The science behind this incredible innovation comes down to thermal conductivity. The low levels of thermal conductivity mean that the ice composite material has a much slower melting rate and the sawdust addition makes it stronger and tougher compared to plain ice.
"During WW2 Geoffrey Pyke proposed the material to create a supersized aircraft carrier for the British Navy."
One complication of this incredible material is that unlike concrete, in the freezing stages of Pykrete, the material expands. Concrete on the other hand holds its shape and size.
On the other hand, a benefit of this innovative construction material is that it can be mended, at sea, with sea water. There is no need to source specially filtered or treated water from elsewhere.
So how did the idea get from concept to actuality?
Pyke had to convince Lord Mountbatten, the most senior commander within the multinational military alliances pre WW2, that this was something that could be done.
It started with a 1000ton ship built in one month, just from ice, which took a whole summer to eventually melt. Whilst this was impressive, ice wasn’t strong enough to withstand the needs of military service.
After reading a report by Herman Mark, Pyke learned that ice made with water and wood was much stronger.
How did they test this miraculous invention? Behind a wall of animal carcasses at London’s famous Smithfield Meat Market.
"They tested the material behind a wall of animal carcasses at Smithfield Meat Market in secret in central London."
Pykrete could be planed and used like wood and was resistant to bullets to the same level as brick.
Sadly, even with all these incredible benefits and sustainable construction methods, the British government were not able to risk the multi million pound cost to the official project so it never took to the sea.
So, what can be learned?
Well, the price tag is massively important here. Knowing that there is a strong foundation of research behind such a durable and sustainable construction material is huge.
Ice has proven to be a brilliant construction material throughout history and even in the modern day with igloos and the incredible ice hotels and bars across the world. We think there is a future for ice construction and we can’t wait to see where it goes.