The methods and materials we use for building are always changing. The days of bricks and mortar may be disappearing as new materials are being optimised for modern building techniques. Here are some contemporary building techniques and materials designed for strength or reduction in our carbon footprint.
Super Hydrophobic surfaces
Self-cleaning glass exists, but is ineffective. You still have to wash your windows and they only clean properly during torrential, horizontal rain, so this technology could be the answer.
Super Hydrophobic surfaces are created with structures. For example, having a rib and cavity structure on the surface or tiny posts. The water then sits on top of this and as it is attracted to itself more than the surface, it bounces off forming a globule of water. If a material such as a window or solar panel has a super hydrophobic surface, water would flow straight off of it, taking any grime with it.
Here’s a video showing a bouncing water droplet and describing how it works.
Structured Polymer Composite
Sounds fancy hey! So it is an odd material that is a mix of glass and rubbery layers. These layers are fantastic at absorbing kinetic energy, meaning anything fired at them is absorbed, quite literally.
Scientists tested this theory by shooting 9mm metal beads at a complex multiblock copolymer polyurethane. The ultra thin rubbery glass melts with the kinetic energy, absorbing the beads and sealing around it, keeping its integrity. No cracks, no holes. The only evidence of impact is the engulfed beads that were fired.
This could mean a new form of body armour for soldiers, a new form of bullet proof windows or even a new type of shell for spacecraft. Here’s another video for you demonstrating the technology.
This is the lightest solid material in the world, according to their website, as it is made up primarily of air – 99.98% by volume.
This transparent material is a super insulator, having a very low thermal conductivity, making it a very unique solid structure. More recent forms of Aerogel are bendable, although they commonly shatter under intense pressure. They are ,however, heat resistant and porous. Due to their dendritic microstructure, they are structurally strong and able to bear weight.
This could be a material used for insulation in homes thanks to it’s insulating properties and resistance to fire.
Scientists for NASA are working with bacteria to formulate a method to create bricks and mortar on Mars. They have found certain microbes, when mixed with urea, will secrete ammonium, which can be mixed with Mars’ dust to form calcium carbonate, the binding agents to make cement.
This could be a significant step to building on planet Mars, as humans could take the bacteria with them instead of tons of bricks and building equipment. The space explorers could feed the bacteria with their urine to create the ammonium needed to make space bricks. Clever ay!
Back on earth we are coming up with clever new building bricks too. The demand for zero carbon homes is increasing so Lhoist Group have invented Tradical Hemcrete, a type of brick made from hemp, lime and water. It is a negative carbon building material as more CO2 is used during the growing and harvesting than what is released during the production of the lime binder.
It’s recyclable, waterproof, fireproof and when it’s demolished, it can be used as fertiliser.
Concrete isn’t a new building material, but it is being advanced with cool new features such as self-healing and transparency.
Litracon have created a concrete that is transparent. Using optical fibres and fine concrete the mix, blocks can be made that are light transmittant with an incredible pattern. It would look great as a lamp!
In certain conditions concrete can lose its tough, solid reputation and literally crumble, so researchers at Bath University are developing a bacteria that will seal any cracks that should develop. Water is it’s biggest weakness, so if a bacteria could added to the mix, should water enter via a crack the bacteria would kick into action and multiply producing limestone, sealing the crack.
Building materials are going to continue to advance for centuries to come with nanotechnology and biology being involved a lot more in our ever growing quest for the best, strongest and most efficient.