New Construction Materials Transforming the Industry

Rose Morrison

Apr 9, 2021

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The construction industry — often slow to adopt new technology — is undergoing a major transformation right now. New digital technology like AI and the internet of things is reshaping how companies approach everything from project management to building design.

At the same time, the industry is looking to adopt some of the latest advancements in material science.

These construction materials represent the cutting-edge of design in this sector. Soon, they may revolutionize how companies build new structures. 

1. Self-Healing Concrete

Over time, buildings break down. Stress and flexing materials will cause cracks to appear. This eventually leads to severe structural damage that needs to be repaired — unless, of course, the building can heal itself.

Self-healing concrete is an innovative construction material that takes advantage of limestone-producing bacteria to stitch itself back together when damaged. It’s manufactured by mixing clay pellets containing the bacteria into standard concrete. When it cracks open, so will the clay pellets. This process exposes the bacteria, which — once in contact with water — are reactivated and begin converting nutrients into limestone. 

This process takes a while to get started — seven days in laboratory conditions and several weeks out in the world. However, it effectively patches up cracks and fissures without the need for a repair team.

You could use this material to keep any building in good shape for longer, but it will be especially useful for structures that are hard to reach.

2. Transparent Aluminum

Transparent aluminum is like a sci-fi concept scientists have brought into reality. It’s as hard as sapphire and thin enough for use in windows.

The term “transparent aluminum” is a bit of a misnomer. The material is made from two ceramics derived from aluminum compounds, magnesium aluminate spinel and aluminum oxynitride. However, it still delivers the qualities you’d expect from the name.

Manufacturers can fabricate it in a variety of shapes, including windows, plates, domes, and tubes. Because it is extremely strong and transparent, designers are considering it for various uses, including bulletproof glass and blast-proof windows. If you need a tough, translucent material, look no further.

3. 3D-Printed Graphene

Graphene is a single layer of individual carbon atoms, arranged into a honeycomb-like lattice derived from graphite — the material used to make pencil lead. When you separate graphene from graphite, it takes on some fascinating properties. The material is both super-lightweight and strong. Researchers consider it the strongest material ever tested.

It’s also a better conductor than diamond, highly reflective, and can create other, more complex materials.

The material, combined with advances in 3D printers, could also enable the printing of entire buildings. Competition is heating up among a handful of startups and international companies striving to be the first to develop printers that can create graphene buildings on-site. 

However, despite these unique qualities, graphene isn’t in widespread use just yet. Scientists can’t figure out how to mass-produce the material. While they’ve had success in creating small batches of graphene, there have been significant roadblocks in creating sheets suitable for industrial or commercial use.

Right now, if you want to use graphene, you’ll have to think small-scale. Some vendors of 3D printer plastic, for example, offer filaments that include chopped-up strands of the material. These filaments are stronger than they would be otherwise.

4. Pollution-Absorbing Bricks

Pollution-absorbing bricks, dubbed “breathe bricks” by the research team that designed them, function like air filters. Researchers developed the bricks to pull in air from outside the building, trapping pollutants and other airborne particles, like dust, while bringing clean air inside.

The bricks can be arranged in a specific configuration that directs pollutants into an accessible plastic hopper at the stack’s base. Workers can clean it out regularly, ensuring that the bricks can continue filtering the air.

For buildings in locales with high air pollution levels, these bricks could be invaluable in cleaning up the environment and providing a fresh atmosphere for occupants.

When Will the Construction Industry Adopt These Materials?

These new construction materials are still mostly experimental, meaning they aren’t in widespread use yet. However, they’re already changing how leaders in technology are designing buildings. Items like graphene and self-healing concrete provide unique characteristics you can’t replicate with other materials.

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