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It’s been another exciting year for one of the world’s oldest building materials, as we have seen designers, architects and technologists around the world reinvent it in ways we could never have imagined.  Its versatility and durability mean we now see concrete in some form or other just about anywhere, both in internal and external environments.

Let's have a look at some of the developments that have made their debut this year.

 

Veggie power

We all know that veggies are good for you but they could also be good for making buildings stronger and greener.  

Research underway at Lancaster University suggests that nanoparticles extracted from carrots and other root vegetables could strengthen concrete mixtures.  The university’s engineers are working with Cellucomp Ltd UK to research how adding ‘nanoplatelets’ extracted from the fibres of root vegetables can add strength and make the concrete more environmentally friendly.

Early tests have shown that these vegetable-composite concretes can out-perform all commercially available cement additives, such as graphene and carbon nanotubes, and at a lower cost.  If the performance of concrete can be increased, smaller quantities will be required in construction thus leading to a reduction in carbon emissions issued in its production.

 

Experimental Robot House showcases a lightweight ceiling

Professors from University ETH Zurich have been working with business partners to construct the DFAB House, which they claim is the first house to be designed, planned and built using predominantly digital processes.

The building, in Dübendorf, Switzerland, showcases a lightweight concrete ceiling whose formwork is 3D printed from sand.  The Smart Slab structure is less than half the weight of usual concrete slabs having been computationally designed to use only the minimal amount of material necessary to make it load-bearing.

ETH Zurich hopes that the innovation will encourage the industry to move away from solid ceilings whose disadvantage is the high use of materials thus impacting on carbon footprint levels.

The Smart Slab covers 80m2 between the ground and first floor in the DFAB House and in total weighs 15 tonnes.  Its rippling, peaks and troughs design is only 20mm thick at its thinnest point.

 

Putting waste plastic to good use

According to a new report published by The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the world’s consumption of raw materials is set to double by 2016. 

Billions of sand and gravel are extracted each year to make concrete as the global economy expands and living standards rise. Currently, we use 27 billion tonnes a year in construction, estimates the OECD.

Scientists are working to reduce the number of raw materials used, as we see from the innovations above.  Now researchers at Bath University say that 10% of sand in concrete can be replaced by plastic before it affects the concrete’s strength significantly.

The University of Bath has led research, in partnership with Goa Engineering College in India, to show how replacing 10% of sand in concrete with plastic waste may help reduce the huge amount of plastic on the streets in India as well as its national sand shortage.

Waste plastic particles from water bottles are ground up to a similar size as sand particles and used as a replacement.  The research team calculated that this approach could save 820 million tonnes of sand a year, and reduce plastic waste.

As we move into 2019, we can expect to see further technological developments that will undeniably change the way in which we use concrete and hopefully bring a positive contribution to world sustainability.

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Sources:

http://www.oecd.org/environment/raw-materials-use-to-double-by-2060-with-severe-environmental-consequences.htm

https://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/waste-plastic-in-concrete-could-help-support-sustainable-construction-in-india/

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