“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.
The USGBC recently released their 2017 data for the Top 10 US States for LEED construction, which is sorted by Gross Square Footage per Capita. That ranking system allows them to get a fair comparison of states, despite differences in population and number of buildings.
As the world not only becomes more familiar with green products, but also starts demanding them, researchers and contractors alike need to be ready to embrace the ever-changing world and meet their customer’s demands. Each year, new products are released that hoping to reduce waste or harness renewable energy sources, but only some of them reach the mass market.
Below are 8 green products, processes, and stories that we found most interesting in 2017:
Wood construction has typically been used for purely residential products in the past few decades and especially after fire protection standards became more stringent. Besides fire rating, concrete and metal has several other benefits over wood, including overall strength, resistance to insects, and resistance to rot. Wood, however, does have some advantages over concrete and steel, like its relative light weight and it’s much less harmful to the environment.
The Netherlands has a ton of bridges, especially pedestrian and biking bridges, thanks to its abundant system of canals. Perhaps because of that, they have become a leader in 3D printing technology when it comes to bridges.
Concrete is an extremely strong building material, but has a notoriously weak tensile strength. In order to resist tension, bending, and shear forces, steel rebar or other reinforcement materials are added either prior to the placement or into the mix. Even with reinforcement, concrete is still extremely rigid and prone to cracking. In the event of a major earthquake, the uneven and horizontal forces can cause structures to crack and, in the worst case, cause failure.
Concrete can adapt to any shape its formwork calls for while it’s being placed. While it’s POSSIBLE to make intricate designs with the material, it’s not always easy or practical to do so. Researchers from ETH Zurich have designed a new method of forming and placing an ultra-thin, curved concrete roof system that they plan on installing on a construction project next year.
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.