8 Sustainable Innovations in Construction Materials

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The construction industry is responsible for a large percentage of carbon emissions. From sourcing to design to material manufacturing to building construction, the carbon dioxide output from projects around the world has a significant environmental impact. This has led to sustainable construction innovations that not only reduce the production of carbon dioxide, but also improve a building’s longevity, reduce energy bills and increase the use of natural light. Here is a list of some innovative construction materials and ideas that could revolutionize the industry and help us build a more sustainable future.


Transparent wood

Swedish researchers have turned wood into a material that is 85 percent transparent by compressing strips of wood veneer and replacing lignin with polymer. This product is light but just as strong as natural wood. It can be an eco-friendly alternative to glass and plastic.


When used to build homes, transparent wood will reduce the need for artificial lighting, plus it is biodegradable.



Bamboo-reinforced concrete

As a natural replacement of steel for reinforcing concrete, bamboo is gentler on the planet without compromising on durability. Bamboo-reinforced concrete also allows for better earthquake resistance. Because bamboo grows so quickly, it can easily be regenerated while simultaneously absorbing CO2.



Cigarette butt bricks

Smoking cigarettes is still a big part of cultures around the world, despite the negative effects on personal health. The butts also make up a significant percentage of waste. But researchers at RMIT University in Australia have discovered that adding cigarette butts to bricks reduces the amount of time and energy needed to bake them compared to traditional methods, plus the cigarette butt bricks are better insulators.


Using cigarette butts in the brick-making process reduces waste and lessens the number of heavy metals that make their way into water and soil.




The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona is leading the way in reducing the use of air conditioning by using hydrogel to create walls that can cool themselves. The architects are placing hydrogel bubbles in between ceramic panels that can be installed into existing walls.


Inspired by the human body’s ability to cool itself, the hydrogel can absorb water when the air around it gets hot and starts to evaporate. This can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees Celsius, so you don’t have to keep the A/C cranking non-stop during the summer.



Super-hydrophobic cement

Recently, scientists have found a way to alter cement’s microstructure in a way that makes it absorb and reflect light. This finding has led to the creation of super-hydrophobic cement, or luminescent cement, which could replace traditional street lights and the energy they consume.


Plus, this form of cement is more durable than conventional cement and could last up to 100 years compared to just 30 to 50 years.



Synthetic spider silk

With spider silk being one of the toughest natural materials on Earth, scientists all over the world have been trying to duplicate it. 3D printing has changed the game in the world of synthetic spider silk, and it could create a product made from water, silica and cellulose that is “stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar” according to Smithsonian Magazine.


This could change multiple industries like textiles, construction, automobiles and medical devices.



Breathe Bricks

A few years ago, architect Carmen Trudell started researching the air quality problems in Cairo, and that resulted in the creation of the Breathe Brick. Inspired by the treatment her brother received for kidney failure, Trudell started wondering if she could produce a building component that filters toxins.


Trudell and her team “came up with the idea of putting a cyclone inside of the exterior wall” by developing the Breathe Brick. When using Breathe Bricks to build a wall, the faceted surface of the bricks pulls outside air into ports, then the cyclone filter spins the air and gets rid of particulate matter that causes pollution.



Super Wood

Although wood has been used for millennia in construction, it isn’t as strong as metals used in building today. Scientists have now discovered a way to add strength to wood by boiling it in a solution of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium sulfite (Na2SO3) before it is compressed so that the molecules within the wood are strengthened.


The compressed wood is far stronger and more durable than wood in its natural state, therefore it can be used in a greater range on construction projects.


As this product relies on the already abundant and natural material of wood, it is still affordable and can be created in an environmentally sustainable way according to its creators at University of Maryland, College Park. The wood is so strong it can stop bullets but is far lighter than comparable materials of the same strength.



The diversity of these materials showcases how much the industry is starting to consider the environment and the affordability of construction. The construction industry is revolutionizing the way that we live. Even the materials that make up our homes are increasingly innovative and futuristic.


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