It seems everything's getting smarter these days - phones, watches, homes, TVs - so why not building materials? Here's a list of the revolutionary building materials being developed right now around the world to make our structures last longer and cost less.
1. Paint that can sense cracks
A team from North Carolina State University and the University of Eastern Finland are developing paint that can alert us to when a building's structure is compromised.
The team has developed new “sensing skin” technology designed to serve as an early warning system for concrete structures, allowing authorities to respond quickly to damage in everything from nuclear facilities to bridges.
The skin is an electrically conductive coat of paint that can be applied to new or existing structures. Electrodes are applied around the perimeter of a structure and the sensing skin is then painted over them. A computer program then runs a small current between two of the electrodes at a time, cycling through a number of possible electrode combinations.
Every time the current runs between two electrodes, the computer monitors and records the electrical potential at all of the electrodes on the structure. This data is then used to calculate the sensing skin’s spatially distributed electrical conductivity. If the skin’s conductivity decreases, that means the structure has cracked or been otherwise damaged.
2. Accoya Acetated Wood
Extensive laboratory and field testing by leading institutes around the world has shown the performance of acetylated wood is extremely reliable and long lasting.
Accoya® wood has been thoroughly tested for dimensional stability, durability, paint retention and in-ground conditions to ensure optimal performance. It's so reliable that it's been used for many yearsas the benchmark against which other treatments and modifications are measured.
Cellulose is a major structural ingredient of wood but it is also a major food source for several different insects and decay fungi and makes a great shelter for others, too. Rot causes wood to degrade – particularly when it is used outdoors and exposed to moisture – limiting its service life.
Thanks to the acetylation technology pioneered by Accsys Technologies, Accoya wood offersan environmentally compatible, durable wood that can be used with confidence in outdoor applications and will last 50 years above ground and 25 years in-ground or freshwater contact.
3. Carbon Fibre Elevator Rope
One major problem in developing skyscrapers is elevator technology; at a certain height, the amount of steel rope required to pull passengers up becomes too heavy and the number of separate elevators needed to reach the top, well, skyrockets.
Finnish company Kone has developed an alternative: A rope made of carbon fibre that’s 90 per cent lighter and could support elevators up to twice as high as the current limit.
The technology eliminates the disadvantages of existing steel ropes – high energy consumption, rope stretch, large moving masses, and downtime caused by building sway. Kone’s UltraRope is ultra-light with a carbon fiber core surrounded by high-friction coating which has excellent strength properties.
The coating is highly resistant to wear and abrasion and is less sensitive to building sway frequencies that can cause elevator downtime during high winds.
4. Phone charging wallpaper
“Imagining your world untethered,” is the catch-cry of UBeam’s website, and that’s exactly what the company is aiming to do.
With pioneering ultrasound technology, uBeam creates an aura of safe, wireless energy that charges your personal devices, keeping them all in perfect orbit.
uBeam wireless charging stationsislike WiFi, allowing users to walk around a space while charging. They will measure no more than 5 millimeters thick and could be tacked to walls like wallpaper or made into decorative art to beam electricity to devices. Smartphones and laptops could then be equipped with thin receivers able to convert audio and charge the devices.
A transmitter transmits inaudible sound, emitting focused power to receivers that are actively requesting power. The receiver then picks up sound and converts it into usable electricity using the company’s energy harvesting technology.
5. Roman concrete
Sometimes the oldest materials still prove the best.
Ancient Roman structures have stood for thousands of years, and now research has proved the Romans as undisputed kings of building. Their original formulas last centuries in addition to being greener than modern concrete formulas.
Now, researchers from Berkeley Lab at the University of California have made a breakthrough in cracking the secret of their long life – the special formula the Romans used to make their concrete. Unlike modern concrete, Roman concrete uses a mortar mix of volcanic limestone, which reacts to form crystals that expand into the space within the concrete more effectively.
Roman concrete's not just stronger than today’s version, it is also much greener. The limestone and clay used in Portland cement needs to be heated to over 1,400 degrees celsius in the manufacturing process, accounting for 7 per cent of global carbon emissions.
But Roman concrete doesn’t need nearly as much heat, as the volcanic ash and lime they used reacts at a lower temperature. This means a potential new concrete formula that is stronger, greener, and will potentially last for thousands and thousands of years.