Thanks to innovations from students and scientists at top universities and labs around the world, we now have access to building materials that were hitherto undreamt of. Below are a few of the more interesting ones.
1. Cigarette Butts
While cigarette butts have been around as long as cigarettes have (obviously), they are usually relegated to the the ashtray and the garbage. 1.2 million tons of waste every year..
Fortunately, scientists at RMIT University in Australia have found a way to utilize the 1.2 million tons of cigarette butts that are thrown away every year by infusing them into bricks. Thus, making durable and efficient building materials in the process. While it's not a guarantee that every cigarette butt will be put to good use this way, the fact that they can be recycled in a positive manner is encouraging.
Move over carbon fiber; scientists in Japan have found a composite that may just beat it in terms of durability and weight. Just one strand rod of CABKOMA is five times lighter than a metal rod of the same size, and is very pleasing aesthetically, making it the perfect building material to put less strain on the structure as a whole. And it can withstand earthquakes too; the headquarters of Komatsu Seiten have reinforced their entire building with it.
3. Polyethylene Piers
In Lake Iseo in Italy, there is a floating pier that connects the islands of San Paolo and Monte Isola with the streets of Sulzano. Instead of being a concrete structure that remains stagnant, it's made of 220,000 blocks of high-density polyethylene cubes wrapped in 100,000 square meters of yellow cloth. The buoyancy of this structure allows it to bend and move with the waves of the lake, rather than trying to resist the current. Not only is it breathtaking, but efficient too.
4. Self-Repairing Concrete
Dr. Shlangen at Delft University has created a concrete that repairs itself when exposed to heat. He demonstrated this technology by tearing apart two pieces of concrete, placing them together, and then heating them up to allow them to meld together. To solve this on a grand scale, he has also designed a car with special coils along the bottom that can travel over the roads and repair them as needed. Since the car only needs to pass by a specific road every four years on average, Dr. Shlangen estimates it will save about $90 million annually.
5. Breathing Bricks
What if walls could help filter out the air instead of just providing support? That's exactly what scientists at Cal Poly have invented, creating bricks that act like miniature vacuums, breathing in polluted air, filtering them through a cone, and releasing clean air back into the environment.
Best of all, these bricks can be added to an existing structure, meaning they can begin to take effect immediately, rather than waiting to be implemented only on newer buildings.
Biofoam is a self-composting material that is made from the debris of gypsum, oat bran, wood chips, and combined with a special fungus. The technical name for the result is Mycoform, and it has been used to make a chair and a small chair for children. It is environmentally friendly, comfortable, and disintegrates on its own, so people don't even have to worry about moving it out of their house when they're done.
7. Illuminating Cement
Imagine a road that lit itself instead of needing street lights to illuminate the path. While it may sound like something out of The Wizard of Oz, it's actually a real product, created by Dr. José Carlos Rubio Ávalos from UMSNH of Morelia.
Through polycondensation of various raw materials, the concrete keeps the light from the daytime and then releases it during the night, creating a surface that glows. The applications are enormous: from swimming pools to sidewalks to roads, it can be used just about anywhere.
8. Martian Concrete
Until recently, the problem with colonizing Mars (among many) has been a lack of building materials. Without available water, there was no way to make cement, which would be needed for roads and structural foundations.
That problem has been solved. Researchers at Northwestern University have discovered melted sulfur when mixed with Martian soil, creates a compound that is virtually identical to concrete. Now, there's nothing stopping us from taking the next step!
9. Hydroceramic Bricks
Everybody's dream on a hot day is to be inside a building that is cool, unfortunately, the people who pay for the air conditioning may have objections to this. By utilizing a compound called hydroceramics, however, bricks can now hold up to 500 times their weight in water and release them on hot days, bringing the temperature down by an average of six degrees Celsius. The building is cooler and there's no change to the cooling bill. Everybody wins!
10. Transparent Wood
While the applications of a wood that is transparent may not be so obvious, the real benefit to having wood that is see-through is in the cost savings. By scraping the wood veneer off of the boards and then applying nanoscale tailoring, wood actually has the ability to be see-through. It can be mass produced and apply in a myriad of commercial opportunities.