Advancements in sustainable construction materials have been made over the past several decades, but research has stepped up in recent years to find ways to reduce the overall carbon footprint of the building industry.
Following are four amazing sustainable construction materials in use today:
- Flexible Concrete
Engineered cementitious composite (ECC) is a type of concrete that can withstand flexing. It is created through the addition of fibers, which give the finished product a greater ability to be deformed without losing its toughness (referred to as ductility). Those might include fibers derived from polymers or natural fibers like jute, cotton, sisal, and lignin. Compared to conventional concrete, flexible concrete can absorb shock better and is up to 500-times more resistant to cracking. According to an article by SpecifyConcrete, ECC decreases maintenance costs and increases the lifespan of the projects it’s used on. It is also earthquake resilient. The article explained that ECC concrete resists moisture and can self-heal hairline fractures in one to five wet-dry cycles.
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- Mass Timber
Various types of wood can be bonded mechanically to form prefabricated wood components. Carbon footprint and sustainability are driving mass-timber projects around the world using cross-laminated timber, laminated strand lumber, laminated veneer lumber, nail-laminated timber, and glue-laminated timber. Wood is a renewable resource that can be grown in commercial forests. As another benefit, using timber on projects reduces the need for labor and shortens schedules. Comparing same size buildings, structural steel alone might require 20-30 workers, while a wood-frame structure would need about one-third as many erectors. As stated in an Autodesk Construction Blog article, mass timber serves as a viable, renewable substitute for traditional construction materials.
Another renewable resource used for construction is the widely available, lightweight and inexpensive bamboo tree. In a 2021 article on the Built Bluebeam Blog, bamboo is touted as strong enough for scaffolding while being a carbon-negative, eco-friendly building component. Bamboo is highly flexible as well as strong, with a strength-to-weight ratio equal to or better than steel and lumber. Some varieties have a compressive strength that rivals concrete.
Bamboo can be used in decorative and structural applications. For instance, bamboo was used as formwork for cast concrete to build textured walls in the Tiing Hotel in Bali. Another benefit of bamboo is that it’s biodegradable, so any waste can be composted.
- Mycelium Bricks
The underground network of fungus roots, composed of cellulose and chitin, is referred to as mycelium. As described by the Straits Times in a 2021 article, when grown on waste products like sawdust or corn stalks, the mycelium grows throughout the waste base and bonds with it like a natural glue, forming a fluffy mass. That fluff can then be molded into bricks, which are baked to be used in construction. The density and strength of the bricks can be increased through compression. A 3Dnatives article states materials made from mycelium can also be used for eco-friendly acoustic panels and flooring. There is even research underway to study using mycelium in 3D printing. When dried, mycelium bricks are durable, resistant to mold and fire, plus they are organic, biodegradable, compostable, and, when growing, mycelium captures carbon.
With the increased emphasis on sustainability by consumers, it’s probably safe to say we can look forward to even more amazing sustainable construction materials and methods soon.