A cooler roof tile from trash

This story was first published on June 20, 2015

IN THE Sahel zone of Africa, blistering temperatures and sheet metal roofs can make homes feel like furnaces.

Mr Calvin Tiam, an engineer in Burkina Faso, has found a potential solution: using plastic waste to create a new type of roof tile.

Mr Tiam, who moved to Burkina Faso from Cameroon in 2009, recalled: "I wondered why all of my neighbours would sleep outside during the night. One of my neighbours told me to visit him in his house early in the afternoon. When I arrived at 1pm, the air inside the house was oppressively hot."

Sheet metal is cheap, durable and easy to build with. It has spread across Africa at tremendous speed, replacing the traditional thatched huts and adobe roof constructions.

But it also traps heat.

During an internship with Ouagadougou's waste management authorities, Mr Tiam wondered if plastic waste could be recycled to make a better roofing material. He went on to set up the company TECO2 to develop it.

He was able to create a prototype after winning a prize sponsored by the ESSEC Business School and the University of California at Berkeley.

Currently, the innovative roofing material is just a slab of brownish plastic, raw to the touch and heavy for its size.

But by 2018, Mr Tiam hopes to recycle 500 tonnes of waste per year to create materials that look like real roof shingles.

He said: "It will be 400 times more insulating than sheet metal."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'A cooler roof tile from trash'. Subscribe