Architects and engineers have always created new and innovative ways of building stronger, taller, and more beautiful structures using leading-edge materials such as glass curtain walls and earthquake-roof foundations.
Now, in 2017, what construction technologies are in the pipeline? Will there come a time when autonomous nanobots replace construction crews? Will the cracks in concrete heal themselves? Will electric cars travel on self-charging roads, eliminating the need for gas stations?
Below are four future construction materials that could change the way construction is carried out.
At one time, the only way to repair cracked concrete was to patch or reinforce it. In 2010 a student at the University of Rhode Island came up with a ‘smart concrete’ that ‘heals’ any cracks that arise. Tiny sodium silicate capsules are embedded in the concrete mix. When a crack forms, the capsules release a gel-like agent that plugs any voids.
Self-healing concrete can be a huge environmental benefit, as concrete production worldwide accounts for 5% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Future construction materials such as smart concrete would both reduce greenhouse gasses and make buildings safer.
In the 1980s experiments were carried out with a new form of ceramic made from powdered nitrogen, oxygen, and aluminium. The powder was placed under high pressure, heated at 2,000 degrees C for days, and polished to create a clear, aluminium-strength material. Known as ALON, this transparent aluminium is already being used by the military to make optical lenses and armoured windows.
Gel is traditionally a wet substance: think toothpaste or hair gel. Aerogel is created by removing the liquid and leaving a silica structure that is up to 99% air. It is practically weightless but can be stretched and shaped to create thin sheets of aerogel fabric. It has demonstrated highly insulating properties in construction projects, and has a porous structure that heat cannot easily pass through. During tests, aerogel fabric had an insulating power that was easily two to four times that of traditional foam insulation or fibreglass. Once it becomes less expensive, it will join the ranks of future construction materials with multiple uses.