The image of construction sites and real estate development isn’t usually associated with environmental friendliness, but innovators in construction materials have been fighting for their share in building a clean, urban landscape for the past few years. As construction pollutes the air, soil and water around it, with London, for example, attributing 12% of its nitrogen dioxide levels and 15% of its airborne particulate matter to construction, innovation in the traditional building process has been sorely needed.
From glass facades that are actually solar panels, bricks manufactured from old construction waste to air-purifying cement and self-healing concrete, here is a list of the top five pioneering products that are breaking the stereotype of unclean construction.
i.Active White Cement
No, the innovation is not in the cement’s color – although the idea of cement that is anything but grey is refreshing – but rather what this white cement can do. Italian company Italcementi created “i.active” cement that can absorb air pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide and then turn them into salt that can be washed off by rainwater. The cement is also self-cleaning.
“i.active coat decomposes pollutants produced by human activity (e.g. industrial facilities, motor vehicles, house heating systems) making buildings cleaner and bettering air quality,” the company’s website says. “i.active coat proves, therefore, to be particularly helpful at sites where air ventilation is specially difficult, e.g. inside tunnels.”
The product has already been put to the test when Milan Expo-2015 Palazzo Italia ordered 2,000 tones of the cement to build the center the event was held in. According to the company, creating this innovative product for the building took over 12,500 hours of research.
Recycled Waste Bricks
Reinventing one of the cornerstones of construction, Dutch startup company StoneCycling is seeking to use waste to its full potential and create bricks made from recycled construction waste. The company was founded in 2013 and now creates 18 different types and colors of bricks, each with their unique name such as the Wasabi brick, the Truffle brick, the Nougat brick, the Mushroom brick and the Salami brick. Some bricks, such as the Truffle, are made of 95% waste, while others, like the Mushroom, are made of 100% waste.
“We produce our products in the south of the Netherlands. The waste materials are collected in a 150 kilometer radius of the factory,” StoneCycling website reads. “Combining various waste materials open up a range of new possibilities.” The exact recipes are still a “secret”.
“Our Waste-Based-Bricks come in many shapes and sizes. The possibilities are endless. Square, round, 3D surfaces, you name it. Challenge us and let’s create something beautiful together,” the startup company’s adds.
The brick has been put into use to construct a bar in an Amsterdam restaurant, and StoneCycling will also use its bricks to construct a house for a young couple in Rotterdam. This will be the first building ever fully-constructed with waste-based bricks.
Glass has become the go-to material in any futuristic-looking structure but the use of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) can help transform it from just a modern design to a functioning solar panel.
BIPVs are increasingly used in architecture to help a building create its own clean, renewable solar energy or transfer this energy to a country’s national grid. Unlike rooftop solar panels, BIPV can be a solar facade to any building.
The photovoltaic layer is installed between two glass layers and one square meter can produce about 100 watts of electricity. The range of energy production is related to the surface on which the BIPV is applied and as the height and width of a building increase, so does the power it produces.
Companies such as Polysolar developed transparent BIPV glass that can be used in public areas or for those who prefer natural lighting. According to the company, the transparency of the pioneering BIPV can range between 10% and 50% and can produce up to 85 watts of electricity.
Air-Purifying, Zero-VOC Paint
Yes, the ability to clean air is not just reserved to biodynamic cement. Several companies have mastered the art of creating colorful paint that can also clean the air or at least not release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that typical paints do.
Companies such as Devine Color, Benjamin Moore and Colorhouse among others offer low or zero-VOC paint. The real innovation in the world of house painting, however, takes paint a step further. Ecos Paint company have created an air purifying paint that can be used indoors.
“ECOS Interior Atmosphere Purifying wall paint is a low sheen, protective finish that dries to a hard, durable film,” the company says on its website. “Atmosphere purifying wall paint adsorbs and neutralizes chemicals and pollutants, solvents and VOCs, for improved indoor air quality.”
The company says that its pains contains a “molecular sieve” that allow small molecule air such as oxygen and nitrogen to pass while trapping large molecule harmful air. On the other hand, this process can saturate the paint with harmful air so a fresh layer of paint is required every now and then.
For years, scientists have been researching the development of concrete that can fix its own cracks. Delft University of Technology microbiologist Hendrik Jonkers, a finalist in the 10th annual European Inventor Awards, believes that limestone-producing bacteria that can activated by rainwater is the secret to creating this supernatural concrete.
“Thinking about the how bones in the human body are healed naturally through mineralization from osteoblast cells, Jonkers set about creating a similar self-regeneration technique for our most widely used construction material,” the European Inventor Awards’ website reads.
Bacteria, such as Bacillus pseudofirmus or Sporosarcina pasteurii which can be found in lakes with high alkalinity, is added to the concrete mix and becomes active when a concrete crack comes in touch with water. The Dutch scientist went on and founded Basilisk company for self-healing concrete. Between 2014 and 2016, the company applied its bio-inspired concrete to a garage.
“After a first successful small pilot study, carried out in a garage in Vlissingen, the first large-scale application of the liquid repair system has been conducted on an intermediate floor of a parking garage in Apeldoorn,” the company’s website says. “In two phases a total of 12,000 m² of floor space (2 × 6000 m²) was treated.”
The research on the subject continues. In October 2015, a team from UK’s Cardiff University, in collaboration with University of Bath and University of Cambridge, decided to hold a trial for the technology in the real world. Launching a project named Material for Life (M4L), the team hopes the concrete can be further developed to repair itself without human intervention.