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Glass roof tiles among 6 cutting-edge building materials

Monday, August 17th, 2015 by John Phillips


Technology is transforming the construction industry by creating new building materials. For example, glass roof tiles can trap warm air for use as part of a building's heating system. A black nylon canvas with air slots underneath it is installed on the roof, followed by the tiles, which are similar in weight to clay tiles. Technology is changing the construction industry. Contractors must continue to work with today's methods while looking ahead to what the construction industry of the future might bring. A recent article from Engadget took a look at six futuristic building technologies that use materials available today to create new ways of building or improving the buildings we create. What do you think of these new technologies? Are they a viable option for the future of the construction industry?

3D-printed zero-energy cooling bricks

Made from 3D-printed ceramic bricks and created by design firm Emerging Objects, the porous, open weave design of these cool bricks allows the bricks to absorb water and cool a room using the evaporative cooling technique. Evaporative cooling is the addition of water vapor into air, which causes a lowering of the temperature of the air. The bricks are held together with mortar and provide a cool, protective layer against a wall, which helps keep it insulated from heat. The bricks can also cool the air without removing humidity rendering a separate humidifier unnecessary. According to Emerging Objects, "each brick absorbs water like a sponge and is designed as a three dimensional lattice that allows air to pass through the wall. As air moves through the 3D-printed brick, the water that is held in the micro-pores of the ceramic evaporates, bringing cool air into an interior environment, lowering the temperature using the principle of evaporative cooling." These cool bricks are also modular so they can fit together to form a custom system large enough to cool an entire room or even an entire house. The idea is these new cool bricks could help reduce the reliance on energy and air conditioning in hot, dry environments.

Smog eating concrete

Italy's pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo is a building wrapped in an exoskeleton made from biodynamic concrete that absorbs smog particles and transforms them into inert salts. The building's TX Active technology captures air pollution when the envelop material comes into contact with light. The pollution is then transformed into inert salts, which helps reduce the smog levels in the environment. The Italian building isn't the first attempt to test smog eating building materials. In 2011, the Missouri Department of Transportation and contractor Fred Weber Inc. tested smog-eating concrete on a section of road on Route 141. The concrete included a photocatalytic additive of titanium dioxide which absorbs smog, uses sunlight to break it down and releases it as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Another full-scale, year-long test in the Netherlands in 2013 used chemically engineered air-purifying pavement with photocatalytic street pavers to reduce nitrogen oxide are pollution. The Netherlands experiment found the pavers reduced nitrogen oxide air pollution by up to 45% in ideal weather conditions and nearly 19% over the duration of one day.

Algea-powered buildings

Algae power offers a renewable energy source. Hamburg, Germany, is home to the world's first algae-powered building. The BIQ House was opened as an experimental testing center for urban solutions to energy issues and is composed of "bio-reactors" filled with living algae that grow in direct sunlight and create a natural shade for the building. The algae also produces biomass for harvesting and electricity that can be harnessed for use in the building. Algae has also been experimented with for use in pavements. Researcher Ted Slaghek and his colleagues have created a lignin-based seal for asphalt mix. Lignin is a common but complex material that makes trees sturdy and cornstalks stand. Use of Lignin could replace the use of bitumen in asphalt and roof sealants. Slaghek and his team have developed lignin mixtures that can extend the lifespan of an asphalt road in warm temperatures, but the use of these mixtures in cold areas has yet to be mastered.

Self-healing concrete

Dutch researchers have developed a type of concrete that automatically repairs itself. The self-healing concrete uses bacteria and calcium lactate which are packed into tiny capsules that dissolve when water enters the concrete cracks. The bacteria feeds on calcium lactate causing a chemical reaction that creates limestone as a byproduct that then seals the cracks and returns the concrete to its original strength. This solution could help reduce the frequency and costs of concrete repairs while using a material nature readily supplies.

Glass roof tiles

Developed by Swedish company SolTech, these glass roof tiles help trap warm air from the sun and use it to heat water for a home's heating system. Styled after Spanish terra cotta shingles, the tiles are made from ordinary glass and weigh about the same as clay tiles. The tiles are installed on top of a black nylon canvas which has air slots mounted underneath it. The black color absorbs the heat from the sun, and the air starts to circulate. The hot air heats up water that is connected to the house's heating system via an accumulator. This process can help reduce energy costs and can be used throughout the year even during darker days and night time due to its capacity to store heat in the isolating layers of air under the canvas. The SolTech system can generate 350 kWH of heat per 10 square feet depending on the climate, angle of the roof and cardinal direction.

Mushroom insulated housing

Mushrooms are a sustainable material that is grown instead of manufactured, and the fungi are naturally fire-resistant, have low or no VOCs and are affordable. Evocative Design has built the world's first house made with mushroom insulation. The house is only 12 feet by 7 feet, and the frame is built of wood. But unlike traditional houses which often use petroleum-based foam insulation, this tiny house's walls are lined with mycelium — or mushroom roots. The mushroom insulation forms an airtight seal and provides great thermal protection.

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