The materials of the future we are envisioning today

New construction materials are also riding on the technological tsunami we currently find ourselves in. If ancient Romans were to see the improvements in construction since they set many of the foundations regarding materials and techniques, they certainly wouldn´t believe their eyes.

Translucent wood, luminescent cement, bricks made of cigarette butts, concrete to urbanize Mars… An endless stream of materials of the future which, although extravagant initially, are part of research projects in many Universities and companies already working with two clear goals in mind: rethinking architecture to make it more innovative and, mostly, more sustainable. Let´s talk about some of them.


Sources: ArchDaily, Xataka, IAAC, El Mundo, Excelsior


With this new construction material, if someone tells you to “knock on wood” you won´t know where to head, since a research team at Stockholm´s Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) has been able to develop a method to make it look like glass.

The process is based on lignin extraction from the cell walls in the plants, followed by its substitution with a plastic polymer that is around 93% transparent. The result is a structure very similar to wood but translucent, with an 85% transparent quality to be precise. Windows or solar cells could be built with this new material and they could be not only more resistant than glass but also could feature excellent dynamic properties, therefore turning this compound into an ideal raw material for solar cells thanks to its affordability and abundance.

Image: Royal Institute of Technology de Estocolmo

When summertime arrives, air-conditioning devices become our greatest allies in the fight against high temperatures. But this scenario could change thanks to the material that has been developed by a group of Smart Construction students at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (Spain). Its name is Hydroceramic, made of clay and hydrogel and aimed at coating façades, capable of decreasing the interior temperature of a building by up to 6ºC in hot days.

This breakthrough construction material works through evaporation. It takes advantage of the properties of hydrogel to absorb up to 500 times its own weight in water which, when temperatures climb, evaporates until a decrease of heat inside the building and an increase of humidity within the environment is achieved. According to the tests performed, the best material to combine hydrogel with is clay.

One of the main benefits of this innovative construction material is its ability to reduce energy requirements, since its implementation in households could entail a 28% decrease in electricity consumption.

Image: IAAC

Smoking habit entails not only serious health issues, but also tons of toxic waste in the form of cigarette butts. Currently, a research team at the Australian RMIT University (Melbourne Institute of Technology) has found a more “constructive” use for this kind of residue: to serve as building material.
The team led by Dr. Abbas Mohjerani has discovered that adding just an extra 1% of cigarette butt content to clay bricks can reduce the amount of energy required for their baking, therefore cutting production costs.

It seems that during the baking process, some of the soluble pollutants in this residue are trapped inside the bricks, thus decreasing the risk of future environmental pollution-related issues. According to the researchers, the addition of around 1% cigarette butt residue during the manufacturing process would make these bricks lighter than standard ones and at least 18% of the energy required for their production could be saved.

The next example is all about luminescent roads. A researcher at the Universidad Michoacana of San Nicolás de Hidalgo in Mexico, José Carlos Rubio Ávalos, has created the first cement capable of radiating light, which could be an extraordinary solution to illuminate roads and buildings without any electrical equipment.

Thanks to a process of modification in the cement´s microstructure, this material presents a texture in its surface capable of capturing light. According to its creator, said material can radiate up to 12 hours of light if exposed to sunlight during the same amount of time.

The main handicap for this new substance, at least for the time being, is its high production cost when compared to traditionally manufactured cement. But its standardization could imply a revolution in road construction over poorly or non-illuminated areas, while reducing the utilization of plastic materials and polymers specific to electric installations.

Image: Agencia ID

Outer space colonization is not just a movie plot anymore. Step by step a whole machinery is being developed around a concept that may be closer than we think. 3D printing as a construction technique in Mars is one of the breakthrough proposals which could help achieve that, and now, according to a research team at the Northwestern University (Illinois), cement production by substituting water with sulphur could be another promising initiative.

If we travel to our neighbouring planet, it seems likely that water will be a scarce and valuable resource, hence the importance of the project. The viability of this new construction material has been worked upon since the 1970s but, until now, sulphur cooling caused cavities and internal tension to appear in the cement, weakening its structure. This American team, however, has been able to produce concrete with sulphur and an aggregate mimicking Mars´ soil (a mixture of silicon dioxide, aluminium oxide, iron oxide and titanium dioxide) which is compact enough, thus turning it into one of the most impressive materials of the future.

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