Research Paper for Effect of mix design on compressed earth block strength

Compressed Earth Block Mix Design

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Compressed Earth Block Mix Design


Making Compressed Earth Blocks it is important to optimize your mix design. By analyzing and understanding what is in your soil you are able to make good strategic decisions about how to optimize your mix design.

Understanding what soils work best for Compressed Earth Blocks is an art. It takes time to learn what makes a good mix design for Earth Blocks. The ability to analyze soil and optimize it is a skill that has largely been lost over the years.

Dwell Earth is working closely with SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering  on a project to make this art accessible for everyone to use. We are developing smart technologies that will tell the end user how suitable their soil is for compressed earth block. This program will make recommendations for optimum mix design. By using technology we aim to reteach the world how to make the best Earth Blocks possible.

Here is a link to a snippet of our research where we explore the strength of compressed earth blocks produced with different levels of stabilizer and sand added to the soil

Research Paper for Effect of mix design on compressed earth block strength

What Soils Work for Compressed Earth Block Production?

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How is soil made?

Soil is a coming together of the Lithosphere (Earth), Atmosphere (Air), Hydrosphere(Water), and Biosphere (Life). These different elements are the most powerful and often unnoticed forces working together to break down solid rock. Overtime this breaking down of rock causes layers to form. These layers are referred to as horizons. Soil horizons can be seen alongside many roads in the banks of the road cut or in a hole dug for a foundation or septic tank.

Pictiure of the elements of nature that make soil
soil profile

What are the Soil Horizons?

O – Organic Matter – Made of decomposing sticks, leaves, ect. (Bad for earthen construction)

A – Topsoil – Humus – Made of partially/mostly decomposed organic matter. (Bad for earthen construction)

B – Subsoil – Little to no organics found. Made up of various compositions of sand, silt, and clay. **This is the soil you want for earthen construction of any kind.**

C – Parent Rock – You will not be able to get your shovel through it.

What are Organics and why are they bad?

Organics are good for agriculture but not for making compressed earth blocks. The reason is that organic matter continues to breakdown over time while sand, silt, and clay are much more stable and will not rot away. We generally need to dig 8 – 10 inches down to get to the subsoil that is free of organics. Scraping the topsoil off a building site and storing it in a pile during construction is best practice for site excavation anyway as final site grading needs to be done with topsoil.

Picture of site excavation for earth blocks

Composition of Soil vs. Sizes of Particles

The composition of the soil is the key to making good strong compressed earth blocks. There are an infinite number of combinations of sand, silt, and clay that exist in the world. Analyzing the soil composition takes lots of practice to become accurate when using basic field tests that you find all over the internet. You could take your soil to an engineering lab and get it tested there but it will cost you $250 – $500 to get your results. This challenge of understanding soils and mix design is why we have created this easy to use Mobile Soils Testing Lab.

The basic principle of a good mix design is to create the tightest possible particle matrix using the percentages of sand, silt, and clay available in the area.

To create the tightest particle matrix possible we want to combine all these together in the most efficient way possible so that little to no spaces exist between any of the particles when they are compressed.

Diagram of soil particles for compressed earth blocks

Gravel, sand, silt, and clay are all defined by their particle size. Gravel is the largest of the particles, then Sand, followed by silt, and finally clay is the smallest. The different combinations of these particles will give the soil its classification. Soils engineers use the Soils Texture Classification Triangle to classify soils so their behaviors and characteristics can be known for general design purposes. These same classifications are pertinent to earthen construction as well. The soils triangle below shows what kinds of soil types are best suited for compressed earth block production.

Diagram of Soil Particle sizes
Soil Gradation For Compressed Earth Blocks Triangle

Do not let the triangle or the constraints make you feel like you need to have a very specific soil and/or live in a specific geographical location. You don’t! This is a huge range of soils that we are able to use to make good quality compressed earth blocks. We have done startup trainings in 19 different countries across Asia, Africa, North, Central, and South America and have never had one that did not have the needed soils for compressed earth blocks near by.

So get started analyzing your dirt by downloading our Soils Field Test Guide or for easier tests with more accuracy purchase a Mobile Soils Testing Lab. We are having an Earth Block Training event soon and we would love to have you. This is a great event to learn everything about compressed earth blocks. We cover soil science, block production, construction, and finishing techniques during this training. It is a great opportunity to learn about and experience compressed earth blocks to better equip you for your fundraising and/or project development mission so that you can see your vision come to life.

Attend Our Next Earth Block Training

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Soils mobile analysis testing kit for earth blocks

A Learning Experience for Compressed Earth Blocks

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If you have ever searched for compressed earth blocks on the internet I am sure you have had that overwhelming feeling of being swamped in very technical information overload. Over the years we have been analyzing and innovating through looking at the entire compressed earth block process. Through this process we have developed and diversified ourselves with simple, robust, and affordable cutting edge compressed earth block production technology. We also revolutionized soils analysis and mix design through our Soils Analysis Mobile Testing Lab that is easily carried into the field and is soon to be linked to software that will be able to provide mix designs that will yield compressed earth blocks who’s properties will be accurately predicted and correlated to already existing building regulations and standards. Click this link for more info on that exciting project.

We also discovered that the educational process was broken. Across the internet there is a tremendous fragmentation of process information, techniques and research pertaining to compressed earth blocks. Much of the information available is densely written technical documents and or opinions and recommendations from the field which are usually just the basics but do not lend to digging deeper and really exploring and understanding what is involved with the compressed earth block production and construction processes without needing to invest the amount of time it might take one to achieve a degree or two. To help provide the world with a better more dynamic resource to explore and learn about the compressed earth block process we have been working very hard in collaboration with 9 Digit Productions to create this Educational Earth Block Experience.

We hope that you will be able to find the new to be a great learning resource for you to further explore the amazing building system that is compressed earth blocks. The projects, visions, and needs of those who we talk to everyday is the heartbeat of Dwell Earth and we greatly value all the input and conversations that help us to continue to serve you better.

Take a look around and we look forward to hearing what you think about it and learning what we can help you build.