When Material innovation meets sustainability

Sustainability isn’t a secondary design element anymore. It has emerged as essential for future well-being. Building materials is a major variable that the designer controls. This design decision renders the building to be future-proof. As technology has evolved so has our curiosity, which has transcended to material study as well. The application of these has Social, Economical and Environmental benefits, which can’t be overlooked. The following are some of the recent explorations to create innovative materials for the future.

Self-Healing Concrete

Dr Schlangen, a Dutch civil engineer from Delft University developed ideas for self-healing concrete. To achieve its goal, the concrete is exposed to heat which causes the material to melt, thus reforms on cooling. Despite having significant advantages of self-healing concrete, the ability to apply heat limits the effective application.

Source- www.cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/150504125010-bioconcrete-exlarge-169.jpg

An alternative to this concept was devised by microbiologist Hendrick Jonkers is call a Bio-concrete, self-regenerative. This concrete is infused with bacteria which helps fill the cracks in the structure with limestone. Bacillus Bacteria enables this healing, it thrives in alkaline conditions such as concrete and calcium Lactate, the bacteria’s food source. When water enters and activates the bacteria in the concrete cracks when then forms the limestone that heals the crack.

Air- Filtering Blocks

An assistant professor Ms Carmen Trudell along with her students at Cal Poly college of architecture and environmental design worked together to create a block that pulls pollutants from air and releases filtered air. This brick is referred to as “The Breathe Brick”, It is an added feature to the ventilation of the building system.


Its core has a cyclone filtration system that separates the heavy pollutants in the air and is collected in a removable tray “the hopper”. This brick when incorporated into the building envelope, it improved the indoor air quality by making it healthier.

Power Generating Glass for Fenestrations

Photovoltaic cells as we know have enabled us to tap into the unlimited resource of energy- Th sun. A further leap into gaining more benefits is the development of Photovoltaic glass. It is an environmentally friendly construction material. Using this glass in our fenestrations, the Building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glazing helps the building to generate electricity. It is like turning the whole building façade into a solar panel system.

Companies like as SolarScape Enterprises and Borosil in India have developed a range of photovoltaic glass, the two main ones being amorphous silicon glass and crystalline silicon glass.

Source- www.solarmagazine.com/solar-panels/transparent-solar-panels/

Both types of energy-generating glass are suitable for different conditions and placement on the building. Amorphous silicon glass is the most alike to architectural glass, with some tinting and the visible wiring. It allows approximately 30% of light inside, thus provides overcast lighting or diffused light indoors.

On the contrary, crystalline silicon glass generates twice the amount of power, works best when positioned in direct sunlight. It is an apt choice for sun-facing facades as they filter as much light as possible.  

Transparent Wood

Researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm developed an optically transparent wood. This new material creates a different perception to look at architecture.

The transparent wood is created by chemically removing lignin from wood, it becomes very white. The resultant porous substrate is infused with a transparent polymer, enabling its transparent effect.

Anti-seismic Reinforcement

Komatsu Seiren Fabric Laboratory, in Japan, created along with Architect Kengo Kuma a new thermoplastic carbon fibre called CABKOMA Strand Rod. It compromises of a carbon fibre covered with synthetic and inorganic fibre then further coated with a thermoplastic resin.

Source- www.komatsumatere.co.jp/cabkoma/img/strandrod_case_photo01.jpg

The new fibre was tested on the exterior of the company’s headquarters in Japan. The CABKOMA Strand Rod, which is arranged organically and softly, protects the building from earthquakes.

In Conclusion

Materials to a designer are, what paints are to a painter, they make or break the final product which needs to be coupled with Innovation. Innovation is finding solutions to the existing problems and improving on the solved answers. This process helps us create a better sustainable future. Energy efficiency and sustainability are the way forward.

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