Researchers say they have found a way to build cheap, sturdy homes in one day by spraying a quick-drying ceramic onto flimsy frames. The technology could help the world’s poor, of which the United Nations estimates there are 1.3 billion, they say.

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. government facility in Argonne, Illinois, and Casa Grande LLC, a Mechanicsville, Virginia-based company, developed the technology. They say they will make it available worldwide after testing whether the homes are earthquake and hurricane resistant.

The ceramic is called Grancrete. The researchers say that when sprayed onto a crude frame made of Styrofoam, Grancrete dries to form a light, hard surface. This creates a dwelling much better than the flimsy structures in which many poor people live.

Grancrete is based on an Argonne-developed material called Ceramicrete, developed in 1996 to encase nuclear waste, according to Argonne’s Explorer Magazine. Ceramicrete thus prevents pollutants from leaking into the environment, the magazine reported. Grancrete also netted its developers an award from R&D Magazine as one of the “100 most technologically significant new products” of 2004.

Casa Grande president Jim Paul told Explorer that his company became involved with the technology because initially, it was was looking for a concrete substitute for American industry. The need arose because concrete erodes in acidic conditions. “But as I traveled in Venezuela, I recognized the demand for cheap housing, and I thought about how to use our material for that,” he told the magazine.

Paul then collaborated with Argonne’s Arun Wagh to create Grancrete.

Grancrete is stronger than concrete, is fire resistant and withstands both tropical and below-freezing temperatures, the developers said; it keeps homes in arid regions cool, and those in frigid regions warm.

To build a home, Grancrete is sprayed onto Styrofoam walls, to which it adheres and dries, according to the developers. The Styrofoam remains in place as an effective insulator, although Wagh suggests simpler walls, such as woven fiber mats, also would work well and further reduce the raw materials required.

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