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UNITEN developed lightweight tiles from cenospheres

A cenosphere tile produced by Raaquu. Photo by author

By: Ts. Dr.-Ing. Zarina Itam

Electricity, or energy, is one of the pillars of modern human civilization. Numerous sources of energy exist, including water, coal, and solar power. Conventional power generation method involves the utilisation of coal processed at thermal powerplants. Coal is one of the most cost-effective fuel sources, as it is easily obtained and produces an abundant amount of energy in comparison to other fuel sources. Inevitably, an enormous amount of fly ash is produced daily and globally as a result of the combustion process in coal powerplants.

Ts. Dr.-Ing. Zarina Itam

Fly ash disposal systems are intended to manage and process fly ash. Common methods for disposal include geopolymerization, reuse and beneficial utilisation, landfill disposal, and pond disposal, which is also referred to as wet disposal. Currently, the most convenient, albeit inefficient method for eliminating fly ash is through the wet disposal system. Improper fly ash management system can lead to several negative consequences, impacting both the environment, which include environmental contamination, land degradation, and health risks due to exposure to heavy metals and toxic substances released into the air and water from fly ash contamination.

The author (second from right) at a recent ceramics workshop conducted by Raaquu. Photo by the author

The reuse and beneficial utilization of fly ash involve finding environmentally sustainable and productive applications for this industrial by-product rather than simply disposing of it. The potential of this approach to mitigate environmental impact, preserve natural resources, and generate value from what would otherwise be considered waste has contributed to its surge in popularity. Fly ash contains a valuable substance known as cenosphere. More interestingly, while fly ash comprises 1% to 7% of cenosphere, cenosphere is significantly more expensive per kilogramme.

Cenosphere is an emerging material that can be used as construction materials to strengthen concretes, as it can replace cement in lightweight concrete and mortar mixes, thereby, supporting green building initiatives. Green building initiatives are strategies aimed at creating more sustainable and environmentally friendly structures. These initiatives focus on reducing the environmental impact of buildings throughout their lifecycle, from design and construction to operation and eventual demolition. Its main goals are to preserve resources like raw materials, energy, and water, fight against global warming, minimize waste and other pollutions, and maximize the whole life-cycle performance.

Recently developed through R&D at the Department of Civil Engineering at Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN) are cenosphere-based lightweight tiles. In contrast to conventional tiles, these tiles are thermally insulated and high in abrasion. It was found that unglazed cenosphere tiles were 10.8% lighter, while glazed cenosphere tiles were 15.6% lighter than their conventional counterparts. This weight difference could potentially ease the tiles installation process, in addition to reducing the costs of packing, handling, and logistics of the tiles. The addition of cenosphere also increased the abrasion resistance ranging from 11.5% to 160%, depending on cenosphere content. This discovery brings hope that the lightweight cenosphere tiles will be able to compete in the tiles market.

Based on the Ceramic Tiles Market by Type (Glazed Tiles, and Unglazed Tiles), Application (Floor Tiles, and Wall Tiles), Construction Type (New Construction, and Renovation & Replacement), and End User (Residential, and Non-residential): Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast,

2021-2030UPDATE AV report, in 2020, global tiles market was valued at USD343.9 billion and projected to reach USD633.5 billion by 2030, registering a CAGR of 6.3% from 2021 to 2030. Similarly, Fortune Business Insights published that in 2020, the Asia Pacific market had a value of USD22.47 billion. Asia Pacific is expected to overtake other regions as the world’s largest producer and consumer of tiles during the time of the prediction, mostly being driven by China due to the accessibility of raw supplies, the affordability of labour, and expenditures in contemporary infrastructure will favourably impact market expansion.

According to a market report by Ken Research, Malaysia’s local tiles market is expected to reach USD5.7 billion. Factors such as the rising standard of living, increased construction activity in the residential and commercial sectors, and expanding urbanization are anticipated to contribute to the robust growth of the Malaysian tile market during the forecast period.

As an initial effort towards commercialization, Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN), in collaboration with the ceramic art brand RAAQUU by Adil Ghani, has produced Raku-designed cenosphere tiles. This initiative is driven by the aspiration to attract interior design enthusiasts, thereby broadening the market for these distinctive and imaginative tiles. By combining sustainable materials like cenospheres with unique and artistic designs, the project not only offers aesthetically pleasing tiles but also promotes eco-friendly practices in the construction industry.

As the demand for environmentally conscious interior design solutions continues to grow, the hope is that innovative products like this will pave the way for a more sustainable and creative future in the field of architectural design and construction.


The author is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Unit (Stakeholder Relations) of Civil Engineering Department, College of Engineering, Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN), and may be reached at The cenosphere lightweight tiles is protected under Utility Innovation No. UI2022007543.

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