Game Changing Construction Materials

The move to sustainability in construction and infrastructure is a trend that is not only inevitable but welcomed by the team at Civil Project Partners. We asked the team to tell us about the innovations and trends that they see becoming a reality for projects in the years ahead.

Game-Changing Construction Materials

Balazs Varga is passionate about the potential for innovative materials to be game-changers for the construction sector. For his look at sustainability, he analysed several materials that, with a little more development and scrutiny, could become a reality on construction sites in the near future:

Transparent wood

Developed by Swedish researchers, transparent wood is created by removing lignin from balsa wood and infusing it with a transparent plastic polymer.

“This seems like an idea worth pursuing, especially if it can be sustainably manufactured and the use of additional plastic polymers do not distort the net environmental benefit. If so, then this is a product that could have applications in construction from windows to facades and potentially solar cells.”


The Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona are attempting to create walls that can cool themselves using hydrogel bubbles sandwiched between ceramic plates which are installed into existing walls. Hydrogel absorbs water, which, when heated, evaporates and can cool a room by up to 5 degrees Celsius, mimicking the way the human body cools itself.

“I really like this idea. Bio-mimicry based inventions, I believe, are always a good place to start the development of new products and solutions. In theory, this approach sounds good, though regarding its water absorption capability, what comes to mind is, where does the water go in the walls? Can this be modified as a self-draining system, does the water pond in the wall? I imagine with some more creativity and consideration this could be a simple, cheap and effective solution to airconditioning.”

Super-Hydrophobic Cement

Scientists discovered that changing the structure of cement can make it absorb and reflect light, effectively creating a glow in the dark concrete.

“I guess regarding the negation of street lights, using super-hydrophobic cement would be amazing, and a simple way to provide lighting without the need for direct power. If I think about how glow in the dark concrete could revolutionise regional roads, which are often not lit, the potential improvements would also include enhanced road safety.”

“I’d like to understand how long does it glow for? A large component of concrete is sourcing and handling; would this process require much processing? For any potential new technology to be used widely, it has to be able to be managed in a way that complements current technologies and methodologies.”

Synthetic Spider Silk

Believed to be the strongest material in the natural world, spider silk has been of interest to scientist for decades because of its strength. Thanks to 3D printing, scientists are closer than ever to mimicking the material and it may have uses in construction and infrastructure.

“While I’m sure there is potential to use synthetic spider silk in construction, I wonder if it could help the environmental sustainability of one of my loves; fishing. Imagine a thinner, stronger fishing line that biodegrades and doesn’t have an impact on our waterways, oceans or wildlife.”

Bamboo-reinforced Concrete

As an alternative to reinforcing concrete with steel, bamboo is a potential alternative material due to its environmental credentials, flexibility and rate of growth, meaning it absorbs and stores CO2 as it is produced.

“From my understanding of Reinforced Concrete Structures (one of my favourite subjects), this at first glance seems completely un-feasible on so many levels, but I’m happy to be proven wrong with more information and research.”

“However, if I were proven wrong, this could be a game-changer for the whole world. Bamboo is sustainable, strong and flexible and would be less environmentally costly to produce. Another alternative being researched in Australia is Super high tensile strength concrete. This type of concrete is over 200MPa, can be used with almost zero reinforcement (the physical shapes of most structures would need to be slightly modified), but the saving will be a world-changer once utilised.”

Super Wood

By boiling wood in sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium sulphite (Na2SO3) prior to compressions, the molecules in the wood are strengthened. When subsequently compressed, it becomes far stronger and more durable than natural wood and has the potential for use across a range of construction applications.

“At a high level, I would assume the process of boiling the timber in chemicals would have less of an environmental impact than the process of mining and processing iron ore into steel. If true, then it sounds like a good idea. In Brisbane, we are already seeing innovative wood structures being developed, such as 25 King Street. It is Australia’s largest timber commercial building and features a hybrid of Glulam (glued laminated timber) and CLT (cross-laminated timber) elements instead of concrete and steel.”

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