Invasive alga recycled as houses

Posted on 16 January 2020.

Mexican entrepreneur Omar Sánchez Vázquez has devised a solution for transforming Sargassum, an invasive species of brown algae, into building bricks. He built his first house in two weeks with 2,000 bricks that used 20 metric tons of Sargassum.

In recent years, Mexico’s beautiful beaches have been invaded by Sargassum - a brown algae that traps turtles and fills the air with the smell of rotten eggs, threatening both the marine ecosystem and tourism. Between June and September 2018 in the state of Quintana Roo, located in the south of Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula, 155,000 m3 of Sargassum was collected from the beaches and in the coastal waters of seven municipalities. 

Given the seriousness of the situation, the state and federal authorities have deployed significant resources, including installing anti-algae barriers. The local population has also mobilized to think up the best possible uses of the huge amount of Sargassa washed up on the beaches. Some Mexicans have suggested using this raw material to produce bioplastics, fertilizers or biogas. Founder of the company BlueGreen, Omar Sánchez Vázquez has chosen to transform the brown alga into a building material.

 

Give poor people a roof 

By mixing the algae with adobe (clay mixed with water and a small amount of chopped straw - or other binder - which can be shaped into sun-dried bricks), the Mexican entrepreneur was able to create very strong and resistant building bricks. He erected his first house in just a few days using 2,000 bricks produced with 20 metric tons of Sargassum. The rustic but warm house is named "Angelita" in honor of his mother; it is an exact replica of the house in which he grew up in Guadalajara in western Mexico. With an area of 40 m2, it includes a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom, and, according to Omar Sánchez Vázquez, is able to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. And it costs just $3,700!

His organic brick homes are aimed at low-income families, with BlueGreen's main goal being to give the poor a home by recovering the brown algae. He has apparently been approached by a resident of Cancún who wants to finance the construction of some forty houses of this type. Taking advantage of a difficult environmental situation to provide a solution for the community, Omar Sánchez Vázquez’s project has attracted the interest of several companies and builders that would like to deploy it on a large scale. Omar Sánchez Vázquez has also indicated that his Sargassum bricks could soon be used to build a new eco-hotel in Tulum.