A team from Washington State University wants to take one of the construction industry’s largest source of waste and turn it into a plausible building solution. And the project will next move beyond the laboratory and into scale with a demonstration structure.

Roughly half of the construction industry’s waste stream comes from low-value drywall. A 2,000-sq-ft home can generate more than a ton of the gypsum board product. When put into landfills, it gets even worse, as soil bacteria decompose the gypsum and create a noxious gas.

The Washington State University team in Pullman includes Taiji Miyasaka, professor in the School of Design and Construction; David Drake, adjunct faculty in the School of Design and Construction; and Robert Richards, a professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. The group started developing drywall blocks in 2017 with a grant from the American Institute of Architects.

The trio recently received an Amazon Catalyst grant to move from the lab to scale.

The first real public example of their work is on display at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma under the exhibit “Make/Do: A History of Creative Reuse". The display shows how the drywall bricks, made from 80% drywall waste and a binder from industrial products, not only solves a waste problem, but also offer a building solution in a world of rising materials costs. As building construction waste continues to grow—in 2014, contractors disposed of 534 million tons of waste, tripling the number from 2003—the lack of affordable housing remains an issue.

The blocks, lighter than earth blocks, bricks or concrete blocks come waterproof and fire resistant. Now the researchers want to partner with local contractors to get additional waste and use architecture students to use a press to build the blocks, which look similar to masonry bricks.

“The bricks are similar to adobe or compress-earth blocks,” Drake says in a WSU release, “but our blocks are superior, especially for insulation.”

In the next year, reports WSU, the researchers will test the blocks to meet building, seismic and fire codes. They also aim to build a 160-sq-ft demonstration structure.

Follow Tim Newcomb on Twitter at @tdnewcomb