With the rapid pace of technological innovation, it’s no surprise that the materials available for manufacturing are changing, too. While some things stay the same (we’re looking at you, trees), all kinds of exciting new materials are being developed and deployed for all kinds of projects.
Some of these materials are responses to environmental concerns and the diminishing availability of certain resources. Others are innovations for the sake of improved performance and user experience. These new materials are making their mark on every field from construction to consumer products.
Why stick with traditional cement when something newer, better and more eco-friendly is available? With instabilities caused by climate change as well as threats from earthquakes and other natural disasters, the call to build structures that have more proofing than weatherproof, waterproof, shockproof and all other proofs combined is getting louder and louder.
The good news is there are responses to the call. Here are some of the incredible new materials being used in manufacturing and architecture around the world.
Innovative Manufacturing Materials
Optically Transparent Wood (TW)
Developed by a group of researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, Optically Transparent Wood is a translucent wood that was developed through a chemical process that removes the lignin from wood until it turns white. A transparent polymer is then used to impregnate the porous substrate that resulted from that process, evening out the material’s optical properties. It’s basically acrylic wood.
Compared wit glass, transparent wood offers more robust, less malleable solution that allows for up to 85% light penetration. With more insular properties than glass, TW provides architectural designers will all kinds of new options for incorporating natural light into spaces.
The applications could easily extend beyond architecture, too. Transparent glass product packaging, for example, could be great for applications where glass is unsuitable and plastic undesirable.
Thubber: Soft and Stretchy Electronics
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a thermally-conductive rubber which is electrically insulating and yet soft and stretchable. This idiosyncratic new material combines the thermal conductivity of metals with the flex and elasticity of rubber or biological materials. This stuff can stretch up to six times its starting length!
This material could really help open up the floodgates for wearable tech. It could also prove highly valuable in transportation and energy. How about tablets or smartphones that you can literally be folded up and tucked away into your pocket (or wallet?)
Thubber is based on a suspension of liquid metal microdroplets. In addition to its malleability, Thubber is also extremely efficient at dissipating heat, which means you don’t have to worry about being burned by all those LEDs on your fancy new wearable.
Most hydrogels today are used in healthcare, such as wound care, as scaffolds for tissue engineering, breast implants, and as delivery systems for sustained-release drugs. But a new material that uses hydrogel bubbles could take the place of air conditioning when used in walls.
Developed by a team at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), Hydroceramics are made up of hydrogel bubbles that absorb liquid and retain up to 400 times their volume in water. This enables the new material to absorb liquid and then evaporates on hot days, giving buildings a kind of natural self-regulating temperature control that requires zero energy.
Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have developed a technique that allows them to make bricks out of cigarette butts. Talk about lemonade! The team discovered that clay bricks with cigarette butts taking up 1% of its volume would result in a lighter, more efficient material. This will also offset the tremendous amount of waste generated by smokers each year.
Considering that there are about 6 trillion cigarette butts produced annually, using them as a raw material for making bricks promises both to lower manufacturing cost and help out the environment at the same time. Cigarette butts contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and other heavy metals that are toxic to soil and water. If they are used in brick production before they can leach into the ground and water sources, well, that’s two birds with one stone.
Light-Absorbing and Emitting Cement
With a cement that generates its own light, what is supposedly a traditional construction material has just become more versatile, energy-efficient and functional. Developed by Dr. José Carlos Rubio Ávalos of the UMSNH of Morelia in response to new construction models, the material absorbs and emits light energy, making it an ideal paving material. Improved visibility means increased safety and a reduced requirement for other lighting sources.
This new material has a wide variety of applications, especially in the architectural market. It can be used in bathrooms, kitchens, swimming pools, building façades, parking lots, and roads. In places where access to electricity is limited, such as an oil platform and far-flung roads, it will prove useful as well. It only needs natural light to recharge, after all.
Due to its inorganic nature, it is estimated to last over a century with components that are easily recyclable. These factors are sure to affect manufacturing in more positive ways than one.
KBNNO Perovskite: Extracting Energy from Multiple Sources
Renewable and passive energy collection are now indisputably the future of our energy infrastructure. While this technology has been increasing by leaps and bounds, up til now it has been limited by the inability of any available material to extract energy from more than one source at once. Well, that may be about to change.
Researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland have discovered a mineral with a perovskite crystal structure that has the capacity to extract energy from multiple sources at once. Perovskites are used regularly for solar panels and other renewable energy tech, but while they sometimes are able to extract energy from different sources, they could only work with one at a time. This is the first material that can extract energy from multiple sources simultaneously.
This is a really great thing, since up til now a major limitation to renewables is that they only function under certain weather conditions.
But it’s not always windy, and it’s not always sunny. But it’s often windy or sunny. This new perovskite mineral, called KBNNO, means that designers can create renewable energy systems that don’t require several different materials, allowing for more efficient, cost-effective designs.
CABKOMA Strand Rod
This new material created by Kengo Kuma and developed by the Japanese company Komatsu Seiren Fabric Laboratory is a thermoplastic carbon fiber covered with inorganic and synthetic fibers with a thermoplastic resin coating. It has been installed around the Japanese company’s headquarters as a means to test the material’s viability.
The CABKOMA Strand Rod has a high tensile strength, superb aesthetic quality, delicate but strong structural body, and is the world’s lightest seismic reinforcement. This material has tremendous potential as a cost-effective solution for retrofitting structures for seismic safety. Used in place of an iron wire, construction will be much quicker but longer lasting.
There’s cement that absorbs light, a brick made of cigarette butts, and then there are bricks that absorb pollution. The Breathe Brick makes use of the concept of Cyclone Filtration that is inspired by a modern vacuum cleaner’s ability to separate heavy contaminated particles from the air.
Designed as part of a normal ventilation system of a building, the double-layer brick façade is made up of a specialized brick on the outside and an inner layer that complements the bricks and serves as standard insulation. A removable hopper built at the base of the wall will collect the contaminated particles that have been separated from the air, ensuring a particle- and dust-free indoor air.
Breathe Brick was developed by an assistant professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s school of architecture and founder of Both Landscape and Architecture, Carmen Trudell. The idea was to create bricks that will help ensure a building can take a more active role in absorbing pollution from the sky and the outdoors while keeping the interiors clean.
Terreform ONE and Genspace have developed chairs made from Mycoform, a material consisting of mycelia substrate, which produced by the fungus Ganoderma lucidum which digests of gypsum, oat bran and wood chips and produces a tough structural material. The furniture is then surrounded by an external skin made of bacterial cellulose.
From waste to a masterpiece, this product from Terreform ONE could be the future of furniture design. What is even better is that the whole manufacturing process is pollution-free, low-energy and low-tech.
Work with Talented and Skilled Designers
Skilled and knowledgeable designers will know how to exploit new raw materials to expand production possibilities. After all, they are aware of what certain chemicals and properties can become given the right treatment.
So if you want to explore the many things you can do with Breathe Brick or the Optically Transparent Wood, hire a designer from Cad Crowd. We have a community of professionals from a wide range of industries, with skills and experience in their field.