Wood has been a construction material for thousands of years and it could be making a big comeback. The strength of the wood fiber actually comes from the very thing we’re trying to reduce in the atmosphere and that’s carbon, finding sustainable ways to reduce and store atmospheric carbon in one of the major future challenges. Cross-laminated timber could be the answer. Consisting of small pieces of softwood laminated together to become a larger structure, it is glued under tremendous pressure in opposing directions to give it superhuman strength – wood affected by drought or insects can still be included in these panels without compromising structure integrity . This engineering process also allows panels to be made to measure, creating flat packed structures that can be constructed much faster than conventional material. With a lower embodied carbon footprint, its potential for off-site construction also makes it a sustainable product. Some projects could even be completed six times faster than a standard building project . According to the Economist, the strength of this layered wood makes it a suitable substitute for concrete and steel and could even be the preferred material for our cities’ skyscrapers. In fact, Portland in the USA has only recently become the home of America’s tallest mass timber structure.
Cement accounts for 5% of global carbon emissions – yet is still one of the most widely used construction materials . It’s mainly comprised of limestone, calcium, silicon, iron and aluminum and is the binding factor in concrete, but the recipe for the future is adapting to our need for sustainable alternatives. DB Group, for example, has created zero-cement concrete Cemfree that can save up to 88% in embodied CO2 compared to a conventional mix – all without compromising strength . And then there’s Concrete Canvas, a flexible, concrete impregnated fabric that hardens when exposed to water to form a thin, durable, water proof and fire-resistant concrete layer. The material comes in batched rolls and can be speedily laid up to 10 times faster than conventional concrete. And not only does it cut down on construction time and cost, it is also a low mass, low carbon technology that uses up to 95% less material than traditional methods . Both of these novel materials are already being used in the building of infrastructure around the world. Anglia Water in the UK became the first water company to use Cemfree in 2017 and Concrete Canvas has been used to create storm drains and build emergency infrastructure following natural disasters.
Some materials might seem out of this world, but this one is actually created with the help of aeronautic scientists. Developed by NASA offshoot PURETi, and in partnership with Neolith, a new building façade material has been created which literally cleans the air around it. By removing free radicals and other pollutants that come into contact with its photocatalytic surface, it has the benefit of reversing pollution and improving air quality at the same time as keeping surfaces clean. In laboratory tests this material has been shown to reduce potentially harmful nitrogen oxide levels by up to 70-80%. According to its creators, just 4 m2 of this material has the capacity to reduce the same amount of nitrogen oxide pollutants produced by a car over a whole year . If we can adopt these kinds of resourceful solutions, we can reduce and maybe even reserve the effects of global pollution.