• Sarah-Jane Kavanagh

Environmentally Friendly Material Trends to Watch in 2019

Concerns about humanity’s environmental impact mean that innovative products and systems around carbon footprint will likely make headlines this year.

Scientists, manufacturers, and designers alike are acknowledging the problem of climate change and are taking significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by their products, materials, and systems. The list below highlights recent trends in materials that can help improve our environmental footprint in 2019.

Reduced-Carbon Concrete

Every year we produce approximately 33 billion tons of concrete worldwide. It is no wonder then that discussions around carbon dioxide-emitting building materials often focus on concrete.

Solidia Technologies make cement and concrete with considerably reduced carbon footprints. Utilizing a novel cement recipe, the chemical process creates silica and calcium carbonate bonds between cement particles that are stronger than those in Portland cement, the industry benchmark. This helps Solidia Cement to emit 30 per cent less greenhouse gases than the Portland variety.

Taking into account the fact that the composite material sequesters carbon dioxide as it cures, a total reduction of 70 per cent in carbon footprint is reached.

Inflated Steel Structures

Over the last 17 years, Polish architect Oskar Zieta has been exploring the technique of inflating steel to create ultra-lightweight structures. Thus far, the team has managed to stabilize sheet metal by filling it with air. The method is demonstrated in the manufacture of the Plopp Stool, a three-legged seat created entirely out of the thin steel sheets.

The firm built the stool by laser-cutting templates out of steel, welding sheets together at the edges, and inflating them from an entry point – as a balloon might be inflated – under high pressure. The result is a stool that can support a load of two tons.

PET for Buildings

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic is the most recycled polymer today with a rate of just over 20 per cent. Unfortunately PET is not a typical building material, meaning that architects tend to pick plastics with much lower recycling rates. PVC, for example, one of the most frequently used plastics in construction, only has a recycling rate of about 2 per cent.

This is where Armacell Benelux, a Belgium-based manufacturer of engineered foams, comes in. The firm’s ArmaForm Core material produces 34 per cent lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to traditional PET foams and is made of 100 per cent recycled content. Providing a variety of products, including thin sheet materials and insulating foam cores, the products are also 100 per cent recyclable at the end of use.

Carbon-Eating Plastic

Mimicking the process within plants, researchers at MIT and the University of California at Riverside have created a carbon-negative material that is able to absorb greenhouse gases. The plastic converts this carbon dioxide into a carbon-based reinforcing material, thus becoming stronger over time and even providing self-healing properties.

The self-healing polymer contains chloroplasts extracted from spinach leaves, incorporated into a gel made of aminopropyl methacrylamide and glucose oxidase. The chloroplasts convert carbon dioxide to glucose, while the gel in turn gains strength as the cells convert sunlight into carbon.

Further research is required to create a substance robust enough to serve a structural purpose. For the time being, it is being applied to promising applications such as self-repairing coating.

Self-Assembling Material

Keeping with bio-inspired innovations, this material can grow, assume different material properties, and can even return to its original state if desired. Scientists at Northwestern University have created this biological tissue-like material from two types of molecules: peptides and DNA-infused peptides. Combining the two molecules, they self-organize into intricate superstructures due to the double helix-forming tendencies inherent in DNA.

Starting as a soft hydrogel, the material becomes stronger overtime as it continually self-replicates. Introducing a third molecule can reverse this process, providing an unprecedented level of control over material properties.

Whilst still in the research stage and not yet commercially available, this material provides an exciting glimpse of the future.

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