Floating on sustainable futures

Concrete canoe, made with recycled materials, defies perceptions

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If you throw a piece of concrete into a pond, it sinks.

Don’t tell that to students at RIT, who are building canoes out of the sustainable material known for its very heavy and dense properties.

“They actually have to float,” says team captain Colleen Kelly, a fifth-year civil engineering technology student, with a laugh.

Kelly and a team of about 12 students have been building concrete canoes over the last year. Making a canoe out of something that’s known for being extremely heavy is more logical than it sounds.

The environmental benefits of using concrete as a building material are relatively unknown by the general public. “What’s rewarding is coming up with a really strong material and you’re not making that much of a negative effect on your environment,” Kelly says.

Not only is concrete a sustainable material, the raw materials used to make the substance can be explored with and replaced by other more sustainable or recycled materials.

For example, the canoes made by the RIT team were made with a mix that contains recycled glass. “It’s a way to make engineers think about the materials they use,” says Christina Farnorotto, a fifth-year civil engineering technology student who is co-captain of the canoe project.

Not only are the materials sustainable, the students are cognizant of the total footprint the project creates. “What’s really cool is a lot of the materials we get are local,” Kelly says.

Kelly and her team even got the chance to race the canoes recently at a competition at Potsdam University as part of the American Society of Civil Engineers Upstate New York Student Conference. The team took fourth place. Nine colleges and universities had boats in the event. Canoes were raced in small teams of two as well as teams of four and were also judged on their design and sustainability.

“It’s exciting what we’ve achieved,” Kelly says.

The exhibit will be at Gordon Field House and Activities Center all day at Imagine RIT on Saturday. There will be a canoe in the water as well as a canoe on display.

In fact, festivalgoers will get a firsthand feel of the specialized concrete used to construct the canoes. Attendees of the exhibit will have the opportunity to throw a 1-foot cube of concrete into the pool at the aquatics center at Gordon Field House.

Exhibitors include Mark Snyder, Colleen Kelly and Christina Farnorotto.