watershed materials develops clay masonry twice as strong as concrete
all images courtesy of watershed materials




concrete masonry is one of the most common construction materials in the world, used to build homes, schools, churches, apartment complexes, and factories — to name just a few. though, the material is hardly sustainable. due to its reliance on portland cement, fly ash (coal burning bi-product), blast furnace slag, high-temp kilning, and abundance of dyes and colorants, concrete is solely responsible for six percent of the planet’s CO2 emissions.

watershed materials geopolymer clay masonry technology designboomsaw-cut half cylinder test sample of watershed materials’ geopolymer masonry




california-based startup watershed materials, with support from the national science foundation, has spent the last four years researching and developing a concrete alternative. currently, their studies have produced a masonry created with natural, mineral based geopolymers, that has incredible strength and very low-carbon footprint.

watershed materials develops clay masonry twice as strong as concrete
this sample, enclosed two steel caps with neoprene pads to distribute loads, finally failed at 100,000lbs of force




the base of the material lies within the use of natural clays, found locally across the entirety of the earth. watershed’s research discovered properties within these soils that could potentially be activated in geopolymer reactions. the minerals had been previously overlooked for their lack of immediate binding capabilities; a problem solved by changing the clay’s chemical structure. the result is a long lasting, high-compressive strength, weather-resistant concrete alternative.

watershed materials geopolymer clay masonry technology designboom
the modification of clay minerals through geopolymerization allows minimal drying shrinkage in masonry products




rather than relying on industrial waste products, watersheds’ technology utilizes its surroundings. natural clays — previously, waste — sourced from quarry and mining operations, construction site excavations or demolitions can all be activated to form the material. unlike conventional concrete which relies on virgin mined rock that’s washed of all color variations, watersheds’ alternative celebrates local diversity. thus when produced in say, estonia, the result will look different then what’s made in brazil. homogenization be gone!

watershed materials develops clay masonry twice as strong as concrete
measuring the liquid limit of clay minerals used in a mix according to atterberg limits specifications




obviously, its acceptance in the building community relies on its practical value. during compressive strength testing, the current technology failed after an exertion of 100,000lbs of force. essentially, this equates in a compression capacity of 7,000psi — twice the strength of ordinary concrete and 350% stronger than typical requirements. thanks to chemistry used in the process, the clay-based masonry is also highly resistant to shrinking and swelling caused by dry-wet cycling. also unlike conventional materials, is the temperature required to make it. waste heat from manufacture is so nominal compared to traditional methods, that almost all of it can be reclaimed and used again.

watershed materials geopolymer clay masonry technology designboom
waste heat from the production machine’s hydraulic motors can be reused to raise ambient temperatures for curing




watershed materials’ the current recipient of the national science foundation’s small business innovation research grant. financial support will continue being provided until 2016. since the company’s first proposal, they have surpassed their initial project target by over 200%. the next year will be sent continuing research and development, and hopefully, bringing a commercially viable product to the building community at large. 



designboom has received this project from our ‘DIY submissions‘ feature, where we welcome our readers to submit their own work for publication. see more project submissions from our readers here.


edited by: nick brink | designboom