Dr Kate Nguyen, based at The University of Melbourne and the ARC Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing of Prefabricated Housing (CAMPH), has led the successful development of an organic, non-combustible and lightweight cladding core—a product that was previously thought to be impossible to create.

Typically, lightweight cladding is made from organic, carbon-based, composite materials like plastic, but these materials by their nature are combustible. Non-combustible materials like steel, ceramic tiles or concrete are much heavier and more expensive to produce and install. In partnership with construction materials company Envirosip, Dr Nguyen has experimented with different ceramic particles to formulate a material that could withstand heat of 750 degrees Celsius.

The development comes in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower blaze in London that claimed the lives of 72 people, and as the building industry globally works to create a lightweight cladding material that will not combust during a structural fire.

Dr Kate Nguyen has recently received a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the ARC, and her team is now working closely with Envirosip to commercialise the development. Dr Nguyen has since joined RMIT where she will continue this work in collaboration with ARC CAMPH and The University of Melbourne.

The idea for the material came from discovering that small ceramic particles in plastic insulation around electrical cables chemically interact with each other, forming a heat resistant network through the material.

Image: The lightweight cladding core material showing the tiny ceramic particles.
Credit: Sarah Fisher/The University of Melbourne.