The Future of Building Materials

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My home expansion was completed enough to move into in December, which was none too soon for me. We had the new rooms built the old-fashioned way, with wood structural supports, Masonite clapboard, and fiberglass insulation. If we had waited another year or two those building materials might have been completely different, considering all the space-age technology coming down the pike.

Aerogel

I wrote about Aerogel and its wonderful properties a couple of years ago. Aerogel is extremely lightweight, which is great not only for transporting materials, but also takes a load off of load-bearing building support structures. Industrial research is bringing the cost of Aerogel down to the point where it might be the new standard insulation material for buildings. The substance is fire resistant and insulates against heat and cold several times better than fiberglass. Three companies are either working on or already offering Aerogel insulation materials.

Spray-on Photovoltaic Paint

We've all thought about putting solar energy collectors on our roofs, but the initial cost of such a system is downright scary. Sure, it will pay for itself, but it may take quite a while. The solar energy industry may be in for a jolt from a form of paint that will allow manufacturers to spray solar cells directly onto building materials. The paint was developed at Swansea University while researchers were looking for ways to keep paint from degrading in sunlight. This new paint uses tiny dye-sensitive solar cells instead of silicon solar collectors, and can be sprayed onto metal sheets as fast as traditional paint. These steel sheets are then used for roofs and walls of large buildings. It should only be a matter of time before this technology is adapted for construction of family homes or even as a retrofitting on older homes.

Graphene

160grapheneGraphene is a wafer-thin board of bonded carbon atoms (actually only one atom thick). Scientists have developed a LECs (light emitting electromechanical cells) made of graphene that can be used for walls or ceilings that are lighting sources themselves. No lamps, no bulbs, and the amount of light can be adjusted for your needs. I don't know whether you'll be able to put nails in these walls -if not, well, a ceiling is where you need the light anyway. It's not yet available as a building material, but soon someone will make a killing off this idea.

Spray-on Liquid Glass

OK, this glass is only really liquid when it is applied to a surface, but it stays flexible. It consists of silicon nanoparticles applied to surfaces only 100 nanometers (15-30 molecules) thick. The liquid glass coating is fire-resistant, easy to clean, and bacteria have trouble reproducing on it. Plans for this material include coating everything you can think of: dishes, food processing machinery, hospital equipment, tombstones, museum artifacts, and of course, homes and other buildings.

So I've just missed a chance to have a solar-powered, well insulated, easy to clean home with adjustable ambient lighting. Maybe next time.

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February 8, 2010 - 3:23am
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