When we think of the ways that technology is developing and changing our lives, our thoughts probably turn to smartphones, computers and other devices that we interact with on a daily basis. But it's the construction industry that has seen some of the most exciting innovations in recent years, especially in terms of concrete. From more environmentally friendly mix methods to concrete that can literally heal itself, new concrete technology offers seemingly limitless possibilities to the future of construction!
3D Printed Concrete
3D printing has traditionally been in the realm of plastics and epoxy resins, but now concrete is on the list as well. Technology is being developed in the Netherlands, Russia and beyond to create concrete mixes that can be 3D printed, along with the machines to pull it off. Concrete 3D printers have the ability to not only produce structures quickly, but also in a highly customized way that sometimes can't be done with traditional construction methods. As this new concrete technology becomes more common, it could be used to affordably and efficiently create housing for homeless populations or people who are otherwise displaced. Check out this house that took just 24 hours to print!
3D Printed House Took 24 Hours To Build
Concrete is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the word "flexible," but scientists at the University of Michigan have made it happen! By incorporating silica sand and polyvinyl alcohol fibers into traditional concrete mixes, they've developed a new kind of concrete that's 500 times harder to crack. It's also quite a bit lighter, making it easier to install and replace. Concrete innovations like this one could make a huge impact on the structural security of buildings and bridges in areas with high seismic activity. It will also help concrete last longer since cracking invites damaging moisture to infiltrate the structure and erode it over time.
Eco Concrete (Green Concrete)
There are several new types of concrete in development that are helping lessen the environmental impact of construction. For example, using either magnesium sulfate or fly ash (waste material generated by burnt coal) in a concrete mix reduces its overall carbon footprint and uses far less water. The benefit is twofold: coal-burning power plants can make use of leftover fly ash, meaning less waste, and the concrete itself puts less CO2 back into the atmosphere. It's a sustainable solution that doesn't compromise the overall strength or quality of the concrete.
While the bendable concrete mentioned above is fairly light, there are other new types of concrete that are even lighter. One such variety combines concrete with carbon fiber, a material known for its incredible combination of lightness and strength. With the reinforcement provided by carbon fiber, concrete can be spread thinner and made lighter while also being strong and resistant to corrosion. It also negates the need for sealers and other barrier coatings, saving time, money and resources.
Yes, you read that right: scientists are developing concrete innovations that can stand up to the harsh Martian environment. By using materials that are abundant on the Red Planet, they developed a type of concrete that's twice the strength of what we traditionally use on Earth. For example, sulfur replaces water since water is a limited resource on Mars. While Martian concrete isn't necessarily an innovation we'll use often on Earth, it could be critical should humans ever try to create a colony on Mars.
Urban flooding is a major problem for many cities around the world, in large part because concrete and asphalt do not allow water to permeate through to the ground below where it could be absorbed. Concrete and other construction materials need to be sealed against water because if it enters voids in the concrete and undergoes multiple freeze-thaw cycles, the concrete will begin to crack and wear down. As such, pervious concrete is not a solution that can be used everywhere — yet. Pervious concrete is a type of porous concrete that lets water soak down to the ground to avoid flooding and be friendlier to the environment. The more it is developed, the closer it could be to a solution for use in cold climates.
Perhaps one of the most bizarre but incredible concrete innovations in recent years is the development of concrete that can heal itself. Bioconcrete uses a special bacteria that generates a glue-like substance when cracked or damaged. This secretion of proteins and sugars then forms limestone or calcite when hardened to reinforce the concrete and seal the gap completely. While it is still in the testing and trial phases, self-healing concrete could save billions of dollars in maintenance and replacement costs and also make safer structures.
See-through concrete could change the way we look at buildings, pavement, signage and light fixtures — literally. By combining layers of translucent fabric with fine-grained concrete mixtures, a final material is created that allows light, shadows and even colors to shine through without sacrificing the strength or durability of the concrete. This new concrete technology could replace plastic glazing solutions for windows, signs and more, making buildings that are not only stronger, but safer and more secure as well.