“You make a better door than a window!” I’m sure your parents hollered that at you all throughout your childhood as you were unaware that you were obstructing their view of their favorite TV show. That phrase may surprisingly not make sense to future generations with the recent discovery of a process that can make wood transparent. Seems crazy, I know.
Wood isn’t the only thing scientists have figured out how to make transparent, recently, as we found out about transparent solar cells that could turn windows into energy sources. That discovery landed on our 2015 list of most promising construction technologies. Solar cells are relatively new to the world, but wood has been solid and opaque since the first tree sprouted. The secret to being able to see through wood, says Lars Berglund, a professor at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, is to chemically remove a component of wood’s cell wall, called lignin. Removing the lignin turns the wood white and a transparent polymer is then added to the material to allow you to see through it. The full report, created by Yuanyuan Li, Qiliang Fum Nin Yan, and the aforementioned Lars Berglund, was published under the title “Optically Transparent Wood from a Nanoporous Cellulosic Template: Combining Functional and Structural Performance.”
Transparent wood is an important discovery, because wood is a low cost and renewable resource, that is available throughout the world. As we slowly transition into more eco-friendly buildings, wood will prove to be a major player, as it also has excellent thermal properties. We’ve seen recent evidence of that with Canada’s newest tallest wood building, 12 stories high, set for construction. Adding transparency to the material allows it to be used in a variety of other applications, including windows, solar panels, and even semi-transparent facades. Even if it never catches on in those ways, it will, at the very least, lead to some interesting architectural uses.
There’s no shortage of company’s trying to improve the world’s roadways. Asphalt and concrete each have their own disadvantages, especially when maintenance environmental factors are taken into consideration. Plastic is a major problem for landfills, as well, as it can take an estimated 500 years to fully decompose. One UK company believes they can solve both maintenance and environmental problems through the use of recycled plastic.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is constantly researching ways to improve construction process and materials, like this material 10 times the strength of steel, or this solar cell that’s lighter than a soap bubble, or this “reversible concrete.” This time the Institute is showing off its autonomous robot that can spit out building structures on site within hours.
One of the most challenging issues with modular construction, of any kind, is the sheer size and weight of many of the components that need to be transported and lifted in place once onsite. That presents a specifically tough situation for jobsites that are not easy to get to. Arup, a design, engineering, and consulting team in the United Kingdom, has developed and successfully implemented what they say is the “world’s first modular glass-fiber, reinforced polymer bridge.” You may remember Arup from their testing of a “living wall” scaffolding cover that we wrote about last year.
Snow causes all kinds of travel nightmares and not just on the roads. Snow and ice can cause major airline delays and flight cancellations. Because of these issues (and the large amounts of money to be gained by solving them) several different groups of researchers have been hard at work figuring out ways to reduce and remove snow and ice from pavement without the need for chemicals and snow plows. The first technology to get a full scale test slab installed at an American airport, however, came from Iowa State University professor Halil Ceylan.
Maybe I’ve had my head in the sand for a while (forgive the pun right out of the gate), but I've recently found out that the world is suffering from a shortage of sand. The New York Times reports that the increasing demand of sand from manufacturing and construction in combination with rising sea levels and human development of shores is reaching crisis levels. Sand is used in plenty of construction activities, from mortar to concrete to brick and asphalt. We use a LOT of it. In fact, concrete production takes a whopping 80 percent of all the sand that is mined. So what can we do? One company says the answer is to drink more beer.
Solar roofs are an obviously popular choice for those interested in conserving energy, but traditional panels are extremely clunky and expensive. Tesla and CEO Elon Musk announced last year that they have solved that issue, which the impending release of Tesla Solar Roof, which look like a traditional roof shingle.
3D printing technology faces major issues when it is required to leave the shelter of a warehouse and step foot on a construction job site. 3D printers are extremely large, heavy, and rely on precise calibration for accuracy. Even the first 3D printed office building in Dubai, which was completed last year, had to actually have its components printed off site and assembled on site. But, Apis Cor, a 3D printing company, believes it has created the technology to print a full structure completely on site.
The concept of solar roadways has been in the news a lot recently. Using the millions of miles of roadways throughout the world to also create power seems like a no brainer, the asphalt and concrete we’re using now aren’t really accomplishing anything more than handling the traffic on the road. But, there’s also a very strong reason why those products are used: they’re strong, reliable, and relatively durable. Still, many researchers believe there is a lot of unharnessed potential for roads and the world now has a very strong test subject for the future of solar roadways in Tourouvre-au-Perche, France.
3D printed construction has been on top of the news the past few years, but we have yet to truly see many real world applications of the process. Last year, Dubai unveiled a completed 3D printed office building, which they say was built in only 19 days, but news has been pretty slow until the world’s first 3D printed bridge was completed recently.
It’s no secret that the United States dominates when it comes to LEED certified construction projects. The US actually has more total gross square meters and number of LEED projects than the the other top 10 countries combined, by almost 3 times, totaling 336.84 million gross square meters over 27,699 LEED projects! China, Canada, and India are ranked number 2, 3, and 4, respectively.
The US Green Building Council recently released their annual top 10 list of states for LEED construction in 2016.