In this era of high-tech research and development no sector stands still, including the construction materials industry. New methods to reduce the labor intensity of construction while promoting values like energy conservation, environmental suitability and superior performance are emerging in laboratories and may one day arrive at the worksite. Though 2x4s and masonry won’t disappear anytime soon, expect some of these advances to take their place among the construction materials of the future.
While 3-D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing, 4-D technology holds future promise for construction. The extra dimension is the ability to print materials that can be programmed to transform to an alternate shape when exposed to certain temperatures, pressure or the presence of water or other chemicals. An example of construction applications of 4-D printing might include plumbing pipes fabricated from materials that could self-adjust to changes in demand for flow or pressure—no input from humans needed, no external energy source required.
Brick production consumes large amounts of energy. But what if bricks could be grown? Research based on the natural growth of coral is aimed at forming bricks using bacterial by-products that bind sand together in a finished product sturdy enough to use for construction. Sand alternating with layers of biotech-engineered bacteria, urea and calcium chloride is added to a mold. The result is a cold-growth process that produces a tough, resilient brick suitable for construction without the energy expenditure of curing bricks in conventional high-temperature gas-fired kilns.
Stronger Than Steel
Graphene is an extract of graphite that can be formed into layers only a single atom thick yet with greater tensile strength than conventional steel. It’s also highly flexible and resistant to corrosive elements. While graphene technology isn’t yet ready for large-scale construction use, it’s already being used in manufacturing and some researchers predict an eventual role as a replacement for structural steel in future construction.
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