Harnessing Innovative Building Materials to Combat Climate Change
The fight against climate change has reached a tipping point, requiring urban designers and architects to rethink traditional construction methods. With cities considerably contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion, it is critical to investigate novel building materials that can offset these negative environmental implications. In this article, we look at new and sustainable construction materials, highlighting real-world instances that demonstrate the transformative value of these advances in tackling climate change.
- Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT):
CLT has received a lot of attention as a sustainable alternative to concrete and steel in building. CLT, which is made up of glued-together layers of wood, has excellent strength and may be used for walls, floors, and even load-bearing buildings. Notably, CLT acts as a carbon sink by sequestering carbon dioxide, while its manufacturing process uses less energy than standard materials. With its 18-story mass timber structure, the Brock Commons Tallwood House in Vancouver, Canada, exemplifies the structural potential and environmental benefits of CLT (Think WOOD, n.d.).
Figure 1: Tallwood House construction process ( https://www.thinkwood.com/construction-projects/brock-commons-tallwood-house ).
- Transparent Solar Panels:
Transparent solar panels, which combine energy generation with architectural design, are changing the way buildings generate electricity. These panels are made with modern photovoltaic technology, which are placed within transparent layers that allow natural light to pass through. Solar Squared glass blocks, created by renewable energy scientists at the University of Exeter in England, are one example of such innovation (HAUS, 2017). Solar Squared is the product’s name. The university’s testing has demonstrated that they provide thermal insulation while also allowing natural light to enter the structure. These blocks can be incorporated into building facades, windows, or pavements to generate renewable energy while preserving transparency and aesthetics (University of Exeter, n.d.).
Figure 2: An example of Solar Squared glass block ( https://www.archdaily.com/879957/solar-squared-a-glass-block-that-generates-electricity )
- Aerogel Insulation:
When it comes to energy-efficient building insulation, aerogel has emerged as a standout solution. Aerogel is a lightweight, porous substance with extremely low thermal conductivity, making it an excellent insulator. (NASA 2019). It efficiently inhibits heat transmission while also lowering energy consumption for heating and cooling. The renovation of Chicago’s Willis Tower, where aerogel insulation was employed to improve energy efficiency while keeping the building’s iconic aesthetic, is an excellent example (The American Ceramic Society, 2011).
Figure 3: A diagram that shows how aerogel insulator is made and works( https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsami.2c04584 )
- Green Roofs:
Green roofs, also known as living roofs, are gaining popularity as a cost-effective way to reduce urban heat islands and improve air quality. These roofs are made up of vegetation layers and planting systems that act as insulation and rainwater collectors. The Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) in Milan, Italy, exemplifies green roofs’ transformative potential. The residential towers’ lush greenery houses a variety of plant species, boosting biodiversity, as discussed in prior blog postings, reducing energy usage, and minimising air pollution (Coffman, R. 2018).
Figure 4: The Italian Bosco Verticale or “vertical forest” (https://bioneers.org/elevating-nature-milans-bosco-verticale-zp0z1806/)
- Self-Healing Concrete:
Concrete is one of the most frequently used building materials worldwide, but its production contributes significantly to carbon emissions. Self-healing concrete, on the other hand, appears to be a viable answer because it reduces the need for regular repairs and replacements. Self-healing concrete can fix cracks on its own by including capsules or microfibers holding healing chemicals, extending the lifespan of structures. The Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands has pioneered this research. According to laboratory tests, the substance can heal cracks up to 0.5 mm wide. According to research, bacteria-based self-healing concrete can boost concrete durability by up to 30% when compared to regular reinforced concrete while also reducing water permeability (n.a.,www.ukri.org. 2022). In 2017, the Arnhem Bridge, commonly known as the John Frost Bridge, was renovated with self-healing concrete. This novel strategy enabled the bridge to self-repair, reducing the need for manual repairs and boosting long-term durability (Vermeer, et. al. 2021).
Figure 5: The efficiency of Self-Repair concrete in comparison with regular one ( https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2015.01225/full )
As the pressure to address climate change grows, the use of new and innovative building materials is critical to decreasing urban development’s environmental footprint. These real-world examples highlight the tremendous potential of sustainable materials in reducing climate change, ranging from carbon-sequestering lumber to transparent solar panels and self-healing concrete. We can pave the road for greener, more resilient cities that prioritise both the well-being of their inhabitants and the earth by adopting such materials and implementing them into urban design practices.
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HAUS (2017). Solar Squared: A Glass Block That Generates Electricity. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/879957/solar-squared-a-glass-block-that-generates-electricity [Accessed 24 May 2023].
NASA (2019). NASA Plant Research Offers a Breath of Fresh Air | NASA Spinoff. [online] spinoff.nasa.gov. Available at: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2019/cg_7.html.
The American Ceramic Society (2011). Ceramics and glass business news this week. [online] The American Ceramic Society. Available at: https://ceramics.org/ceramic-tech-today/ceramics-and-glass-business-news-this-week [Accessed 24 May 2023].
Think WOOD (n.d.). Brock Commons Tallwood House. [online] Think Wood. Available at: https://www.thinkwood.com/construction-projects/brock-commons-tallwood-house.
University of Exeter (n.d.). Impact – Solar Square | Working with natural systems for sustainable futures | University of Exeter. [online] www.exeter.ac.uk. Available at: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/research/esi/research/projects/impact-solarsquare/.
Vermeer, C., Emanuele, R., Tamis, J., Jonkers, H. and Kleerebezem, R. (2021). From waste to self-healing concrete: A proof-of-concept of a new application for polyhydroxyalkanoate. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, [online] 164(10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.105206). doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.resconrec.2020.105206.
www.ukri.org. (2022). The first UK company to develop sustainable self-healing concrete. [online] Available at: https://www.ukri.org/about-us/how-we-are-doing/research-outcomes-and-impact/innovate-uk/the-first-uk-company-to-develop-sustainable-self-healing-concrete/ [Accessed 24 May 2023].