Many of us may think that technological innovation is all about electronics, computers, automobiles and telecommunications, but in actual fact, it’s happening all around us. Every industry in the world relies on improvements to their techniques, manufacturing processes and materials to continue to make better products and gain a market advantage on competitors.
But innovation isn’t only about increasing profits.
Much of the developed world is becoming increasingly focussed on sustainability, with a strong push to reduce our carbon footprint and minimise our waste. As a result, some interesting developments in construction materials are starting to show up in both commercial and domestic projects.
In this article, we’ll take a look at eight new construction materials that could change the way we build.
Cracks in concrete have been a long-standing problem in the construction industry. A small crack often becomes larger and wears away the structure over time. Self-healing concrete sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it exists, and it can be used to solve this challenge. This innovative building material is made up of living spores and water capsules within the mixed concrete. When damage occurs, the capsules crack open and mix with water. This mixture produces calcite, a material that fills the damaged area and then solidifies in place.
By using self-healing concrete, structures such as tunnels, buildings and bridges will cost less to build and maintain.
Speaking of sci-fi, programmable cement can be used to achieve water and chemical resistance in an effort to make concrete structures more durable. Programmable cement is essentially a form of concrete that can be designed to achieve less porous and more chemically resistant shapes. These innovative shapes limit damage to concrete and increase the durability of structures.
It doesn’t exactly sound like a suitable material for construction, but recycled cardboard is another one to look out for. Cardboard can be used to create a cellulose-based insulation for both residential and commercial buildings.
For structures that are built in cold or hot climates, cardboard creates a higher quality insulation material than many other options on the market.
The use of timber steadily decreased in commercial construction projects as concrete and steel quickly became preferred options due to their strength and fire resistance. However, wood construction materials are experiencing a bit of a renaissance in the form of mass timber. This is essentially solid wood that has been laminated and panelised to increase strength and durability.
Using mass timber allows builders to lower the carbon footprint of buildings by trapping carbon from the atmosphere. As an added bonus, mass timber is cheaper than other materials and therefore reduces the cost of building projects.
It seems kinda gross, but cigarette butts are another innovative material that can be used in construction. They can be infused into bricks, where they provide durability and efficiency to building materials.
Additionally, discarded cigarette butts result in millions of tons of waste every year, so using them as a construction material helps clean up the environment and reduce material costs. The bricks made from cigarette butts are often lighter, more convenient to use, and highly energy efficient.
Mushrooms and construction doesn’t exactly sound like a viable concept, but mycelium fungi may start to change that.
Mycelium is the vegetative structure of fungus, and when dried and combined with materials like timber, sawdust and demolition waste, it can be moulded into extremely durable bricks. It’s organic and compostable, so it leaves little waste and has virtually no negative impact on the environment.
Bamboo is another organic and sustainable construction material that is making a comeback. It’s highly flexible, allowing builders to use it for both structural and decorative purposes. Plus it’s easy to find and source, as the tree is capable of growing in many environments around the world.
Moreover, bamboo produces very little waste. A whole stem of a bamboo tree can be used in construction, and any pieces left over are compostable, which makes it a very environmentally friendly material.
Carbon fibre is now being used in many different applications. From vehicles to aeroplanes, this material is very popular due to its light weight and tensile strength. But because of these desirable properties, carbon fibre is now being used to retrofit buildings against earthquakes.
Innovations in construction materials and construction equipment continue to revolutionise the industry and help push it towards a more sustainable future. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to come at a cost to quality or safety, as many of these organic materials are stronger and more effective than bricks and mortar. And while there’s still a place for your Kubota excavator and other traditional construction equipment, we can still push the limits of what is possible with new technologies. All while reducing our impact on the environment. Seems like a win-win to me.