There are limitations on many of the most commonly used building materials today, especially regarding their environmental impact. Innovative engineers across the globe have responded by developing alternatives.
Cement is the world’s most widely used manmade construction material, but wood, bricks, steel, and glass are close behind but they have their issues. For example, cement production across the globe accounts for close to 5% of human-produced CO2 emissions each year. Brick production has been associated with soil degradation from raw material sourcing.
Start-ups, scientists, and engineers have responded to these drawbacks by proposing alternative and innovative building materials. Here is an in-depth look at four of them.
1. 3D-Printed Bioplastics
Waste remains a serious issue in the construction industry, with the quantities of discarded building materials being anywhere between 20 and 30%.
Dutch company Aectual uses industrial-sized 3D printers to produce sophisticated and complex bioplastics designs for everything from floors and staircases to entire buildings. The firm states that its bioplastics are composed of 100% sustainable plant-based polymers and can also employ recycled plastics. If the printer makes an error, the plastic can be broken down and re-used, theoretically created no-waste building projects.
2. ‘Programmable’ Cement
One of the biggest issues with concrete is that it is porous and can be infiltrated by chemicals and water that degrade the material and can cause steel supports to rust.
Scientists at Rice University in Texas have developed an innovative building material by ‘programming’ concrete’s molecular structure to pack more tightly. By adding positively and negatively charged surfactants to the concrete mix, the team was able to control the form it took as it set. Practically speaking, this means that the concrete is stronger, less porous, and can be used in lower quantities to achieve the same result.