“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.
As electric vehicles are becoming more and more popular around the world, researchers are trying to find ways to adapt the technology to heavier duty applications. Due to the large size of projects and amount of money in the industry, the mining industry has seen its fair share of technological advancement. Several manufacturers, like Komatsu, have developed and released driverless dump trucks for mining operations in the past few years. A team of companies in Switzerland is now working on a gigantic battery powered dump truck that will be tested for 10 years.
Rapid growth and the industrialization are the major contributors to China’s noted air quality issues. 4 years ago, the Chinese government issued a “war on pollution” aiming to improve air quality and reduce other environmental hazards, such as land and water contamination. Air quality is at its worst in the winter months across the country, due to households relying more on coal power to heat residents’ homes.
Asphalt is one of the world’s most popular pavement materials. Because of that, researchers and scientists are constantly looking for ways to improve upon it. Additives have been included in some asphalt mixes for years to improve strength, but recently researchers have been getting pretty clever with the types of additives they’re testing.
As great as a product as asphalt is, there’s no doubt that there is room for improvement. Scientists all over the world are trying to solve its most common issues, such as potholes, cracking, ice build-up, and storm water drainage. Los Angeles is now tackling another issue with the material: heat island effect.
In March of this year, Elon Musk announced that Tesla would begin taking orders on their Solar Roof Shingle concept. Tesla Solar Roof is a solar power roof system that eliminates the need for bulky solar panels installed over top of traditional roof materials. Instead, the shingles themselves, which come in a variety of different styles, are the solar panels.
At the company’s second quarter earnings report, Tesla announced that the first solar roof installations have been completed.
Standard vertical elevators have had it too good, for too long. After the first cable dependent elevator was unveiled in 1857, not much has changed in the elevator industry. They’re still using cable systems and still only going up and down. But not anymore. ThyssenKrupp has officially made a multi-directional elevator a reality.
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.