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4 New Construction Building Materials with ECO Credentials

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.

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3. Hydroceramics

Air conditioning may be necessary on a hot day, but it’s also expensive. Researchers IAAC architecture school in Barcelona have developed ‘hydroceramics’, one of the most innovative building materials in awhile. Its passive cooling system can reduce the internal temperature in a building by up to 5°C.

The material consists of ceramic panels containing hydrogel, which can absorb up to 500 times its weight in water. When hydrogel is integrated into a building’s ceramic façade, it can absorb humidity from the air. On hot days, the water in the polymer will evaporate, cooling the building and potentially reducing air conditioning costs by 28%.

4. bioMASON bricks

It takes huge amounts of energy to create the trillions of bricks produced each year, a fact that US company bioMASON is hoping to change. It has mastered a way of producing concrete bricks in regular temperatures, so they don’t need to be fired.

Inspired by the way coral is formed, the company has developed a way ‘growing’ bricks. After placing sand in rectangular molds and introducing bacteria, they supply the mixture with water full of nutrients for a few days. As a result, calcium carbonate crystals form around each grain of sand to create a hard substance. According to BioMASON, the result is equal to traditionally-made bricks but more environmentally friendly.

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