New building materials

New building materials

New building materials such as translucent wood, self-healing concrete, light-emitting concrete and air-purifying bricks can reduce material usage, decrease energy consumption of the built environment and/or improve the indoor climate in buildings.

New types of building materials are emerging. Some new materials are more sustainable than the existing alternatives, others are stronger than the alternative, or offer entirely new functionality from a well-known material. Here a few examples are presented.

Application examples

Translucent wood

Researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology have succeeded in removing the brown-coloured lignin from a wood veneer hereby making wood translucent. Subsequently, they add a polymer to make the porous wood durable. Currently, non-sustainable epoxy is used as polymer, but researchers hope to substitute this with recyclable plastic in the future. Translucent wood is stronger than traditional wood, and could be used e.g. in windows, building façades, or solar cell surfaces (


Researchers from Advanced Architecture of Catalonia have created a structural material that is able to cool the interior of a building on hot days. A water-absorbing material called hydrogel is integrated into ceramic façade elements. The absorbed water is automatically released from the ceramics on a hot day, hereby creating a cooling effect (

Air-purifying bricks

A professor from California Polytechnic State University has developed the Breathe Bricks, which filter out pollutants from the air. The bricks filter and transmit the outdoor air through the walls, hereby improving indoor air quality in a passive way (

Light-emitting concrete

A concrete material that is charged by means of natural or artificial light, and emits light in the dark. The material is produced at room temperature, which makes it more sustainable than traditional concrete (

Self-healing concrete

Cement is one of the most widely used construction materials. Researchers from Delft University have found that adding bacteria to the concrete can make it self-healing. The bacteria produce limestone when exposed to water and air (i.e. when there is a crack in the concrete). The limestone seals the cracks, hereby prolonging the lifetime of the concrete structure (

Kinetic paving

A company called Pavegen produces tiles that generate electric power as people walk on them. The tiles moves only 5 mm when people step on them, but this is enough for the tiles to absorb the energy (

Self-assembling components

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed components that self-assemble into a pre-defined structure. A self-assembling component is 3D printed to consist of a combination of expanding material and rigid material. As the structure is exposed to water, light or heat, the expanding material deforms causing the component to change into a pre-defined structure. Currently, the self-assembling structures are rather small. Researchers imagine that the technology could be used to create water pipes that are able to change size according to the water pressure or valves that opens or closes according to the temperature of the water (

Construction impact

Advanced construction materials affects the construction as well as the design and use phase of construction projects.
24 JULY 2024