Building materials: 10 of the best new innovations in 2015
4 December 2015
Building materials: 10 of the best new innovations in 2015
Have building techniques and technologies changed much in the last century?
You bet.
Some things remain fundamentally the same (think hammer) but some things have changed dramatically (think building materials).
Here are 10 recent building material innovations we think are pretty exciting.

1. Self-healing concrete

Cement - it’s everywhere. But did you know it’s responsible for around 7 percent of annual global carbon emissions? The other problem with concrete is cracking.  
Researchers at Bath University are developing a self-healing concrete. It uses a mix containing bacteria within microcapsules, which germinate when water enters a crack in the concrete. This produces limestone which plugs the crack before water and oxygen has a chance to corrode the steel reinforcement.

2. Harnessing kinetic energy

Pavegen provides a technology that enables flooring to harness the kinetic energy of footsteps. It generates electricity from pedestrian footfall using an electromagnetic induction process and flywheel energy storage.
Another company, Underground Power, is exploring the potential of kinetic energy in roadways. It’s developed a technology called Lybra, a tyre-like rubber paving that converts the kinetic energy produced by moving vehicles into electrical energy.  The kinetic energy is collected, converted into electricity and passed on to the electricity grid.

3. 3D printing

Advances in 3D printing technology have the potential to open up all sorts of design and construction opportunities. 3D printed components do not have the same design constraints as current construction methods and have the potential to save significant cost.
Lower material usage and lower labour costs could create a less expensive construction method.

4. Photovoltaic glazing

Companies such as Polysolar have introduced transparent photovoltaic glass as a structural building material (think windows, façades and roofs). This basically turns the whole building envelope into a solar panel saving significantly on energy costs. Nice.

5. Strawboard

Traditionally panel boards are made from fibre cement or plasterboard. Now they’re being made from straw.
German-founded company Novofibre manufactures a unique ‘oriented structural straw board’ made from wheat straw fibre and a formaldehyde-free adhesive.
The panels are lightweight but strong, elastic and malleable. They have both sound and thermal insulation benefits. And because the boards use wheat straw that would normally be burned as agricultural waste, they’re cutting down on CO2 emissions.

6. Thermal bridging insulation

We’re always after more efficient insulation material to reduce energy consumption.
Enter Thermablok® Aerogel Insulation. Utilizing technology developed by NASA Thermablok® is a highly efficient, aerogel-based insulating material that can increase the overall R-value of a wall by more than 40 percent.

7. Pest control with recyclable crushed glass

Although not such a big problem in New Zealand, termites are a real problem for buildings (and their owners) in some parts of the world. Keeping a home termite-free often involves application of nasty chemical pesticides.
Termiglass is a non-toxic physical termite barrier developed by Queensland-based Termicide. Recyclable glass is crushed to a specific shape and density. Termites can’t chew through the glass, it’s too heavy for them to move, and the arrangement of the shards means there isn’t enough space for termites to crawl through.

8. Modular construction

Not new, but modular construction is increasingly popular.
Modular designed buildings are constructed off-site. This limits weather disruptions as well as enabling components to be delivered as and when needed - construction becomes somewhat of a logistics exercise. Up to 70 per cent of a building can be produced as components - we’re talking “just in time” manufacturing and delivery.
Modular construction also has sustainability benefits, from fewer vehicle movements to less waste.

9. Asset mapping

Asset mapping tracks the installation and maintenance of operational equipment such as heating, air conditioning, lighting and security systems. Realtime information from the equipment is collected, stored and accessed as needed.
Asset mapping helps facilities build databases of asset performance. This helps with proactive building maintenance, and can reduce building procurement and insurance costs.

10. Sustainable aerated building blocks

Hebel is a high performance autoclaved aerated concrete. Hebel has been around for a while but its sustainability credentials are now  being recognised and utilised.
Hebel has superior insulation qualities compared to other traditional masonry products such as clay bricks. This means you require less energy for heating and cooling. The blocks themselves take less energy to make (embodied energy) than traditional concrete blocks. A more sustainable choice of building material.
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