Here at Trekker, we closely monitor the newest innovations in heavy equipment technologies. But that’s certainly not the only area of construction and concrete work we’re fascinated by. For example, this is an exciting time for upcoming breakthroughs in building materials. There’s a lot of focus these days on creating longer lasting, more environmentally friendly materials.
Have you heard of these building materials currently in research and development?
Self-Healing Concrete and Asphalt
You read that right. Scientists are working on concrete that secretes a repairing substance when it begins to crack. The substance seeps into the crack, filling it, and then it hardens after reacting with compounds in the concrete or moisture and carbon dioxide in the air.
Similar work is being done with asphalt. One promising approach embeds steel wool fibers in the asphalt mixture. This allows the asphalt to conduct electricity, and cracks can actually heal with induction heating. A number of other techniques are in the works as well.
Researchers at UCLA have developed something they’ve cleverly dubbed CO2NCRETE. They’ve successfully 3D printed small quantities of a cement-like substance made by mixing lime with carbon dioxide emissions from the smokestacks of power plants.
This is just one example of how the concrete industry is capturing environmentally harmful carbon dioxide emissions for use in the creation of building materials. CarbonCure, Calera, and Novacem are a few companies doing notable, innovative work in this respect.
See-through lumber has the potential to replace glass in windows, solar panels, and other places. This offers a promising alternative that’s less susceptible to cracks, shattering, and other damage. Creating this material of the future involves chemically stripping wood veneer of a compound called lignin.
Lignin contributes to the strength and rigidity of wood, and it also gives it its color. In making transparent wood, a colorless polymer called polymethyl methacrylate (that you’d recognize under its brand names of Lucite and Plexiglas) is introduced after removing the lignin to re-strengthen the material and to allow light to pass through it better.
Solar Cells that Generate Power from Rain
This is an exciting prospect, but the furthest on our list from becoming practical enough to implement. The idea of an all-weather solar cell is obviously appealing. Researchers have managed to generate a small amount of electricity when saltwater rolls over solar cells made with a super-thin layer of graphene, a highly conductive material.
However, graphene is expensive, and the process relies on more salt than naturally occurs in rainwater. Plus, this process has so far only been able to generate a fraction of the voltage created by a AA battery, and it has too low an energy conversion rate. Still, researchers remain hopeful, and our endless capacity for creative problem solving will surely make all-weather solar panels a reality eventually.