28-30 Apr 2020
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Smart building materials disrupting the construction industry

The smart materials that are changing the construction industry From insulation used in space research to concrete that heals itself, these are the space age inventions that are becoming reality in the construction industry.

Insulation built for the Mars Rover, concrete that can repair itself, engineered wood that can be used to built towers. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but these products are already a reality and proving to be major disruptors in the construction industry.

Here is the rundown on how they work and how they can benefit building projects today.

The same insulation used on the Mars Rover is available for commercial application

Despite its fiery red-coloured surface, Mars is actually a bitterly cold place. You might be lucky to get 20 degrees celsius near its equator at noon in summer, but for the rest of the time you can expect temperatures that plummet to minus 73 C and causes frost to form on the rocks.

This is because Mars has no heat blanket, so it cannot retain its own heat energy.

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers need to be able to conduct their work without the joints and circuit boards freezing over, so the unique solid silica aerogel was used as insulation to keep it warm.

This aerogel is nicknamed ‘solid smoke’ because it is 99.8 per cent air, making it extremely lightweight and cheaper to fly to Mars.

Solid smoke is also available for commercial purposes back here on Earth, because it is flexible, low density and has low thermal conductivity. It is also very affordable, making it the perfect all-round insulation material in construction.

The concrete material capable of repairing itself

The problem with concrete is that it is susceptible to chips, cracks and other degradations caused by the elements and other forces.

Any concrete structure is going to require patching up at some point, which can be a real pain and an extra expense to boot.

Wouldn’t it be nice if concrete was alive and could patch itself up? Well, now it is and it can.

By introducing ureolytic bacteria into concrete, scientists have found a way for the material to heal itself. These bacteria emit limestone into micro cracks in the concrete, filling them up and preventing them from becoming bigger problems.

The product, masterminded by Delft University microbiologist Hendrik Jonkers, is a major step forward with concrete production tipped to reach 5bn metric tons per year by 2030.

How Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) will enable the construction of buildings using only wood

They call cities the concrete jungle for a reason – everything is built using concrete and steel.

There are obvious reasons for this, you cannot build a major tower out of wood or it will just fall down. That could be all about to change.

Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is an engineered wood that is five times lighter than concrete but comparable in strength.

The panels are pre-fabricated which speed up construction time while the lightweight nature of the material makes it a much safer option as well.

International House in Sydney is one domestic building that has been constructed using CLT, with six above-ground levels built entirely from engineered or cross laminated timber.

DesignBUILD 2019 is titled Setting the New Standard and will feature many innovative construction materials being rolled out across the industry. It will be held at the International Convention Centre in Sydney from May 14-16.
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