Concrete — a material that can be traced back over 2,000 years — still remains the most popular choice for builders today. But if you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to concrete products, think again. From self-healing to Martian, we’ve gathered five innovative concrete technologies with the potential to completely transform the construction industry.
1. Self-healing concrete
No matter how carefully it’s mixed or reinforced, all concrete eventually cracks — and those cracks can lead to collapses. That’s why scientists at the Delft University of Technology invented bioconcrete, a concrete that uses bacteria to heal itself. The bacteria generate crystals that enclose their cells, and when mixed with other secretions (like proteins and sugar), they generate a glue-like substance. If the concrete cracks, the bacteria seal any gaps by forming either limestone or calcite.
It’s still in the research and trial phases, but the market for self-healing concrete has already been forecasted to reach $1,375 billion globally by 2025.
2. 3D-printed concrete
Recent developments in 3D printing have showcased an untapped potential to build affordable communities. Today, 3D-printed concrete can be used to quickly produce homes for the displaced or homeless, and the technology can often handle geometries that traditional construction techniques can’t.
3. Eco-friendly concrete
Traditional concrete is not an environmentally friendly material to make or use. However, scientists at London-based Novacem claim to have developed a new, more eco-friendly form of concrete using magnesium sulfate, which requires much less heating than typical concrete components. While concrete usually generates a large amount of carbon, Novacem claims that their concrete actually absorbs CO2 as it hardens.
This development could have a huge impact once it hits the market, especially as the demand for sustainable building materials continues to grow.
4. Pervious concrete
Another eco-friendly concrete solution gaining traction within the construction industry is pervious concrete. Traditionally, concrete is impervious (meaning water runs off of it), requiring architects to direct its flow in focused ways. Design flaws and unanticipated weather patterns have unfortunately led to many cases of urban flooding, erosion, pollution, and other serious ecological issues.
Sometimes called porous pavement, pervious concrete is made of larger particles than traditional concrete. The larger particles create voids within the concrete that allow for the gradual infiltration of rainwater into the ground below, providing a safer and more environmentally friendly alternative.
5. Martian concrete
Though it sounds like the stuff of science fiction, this concrete is real (and it may even be the best building material in the Solar System).
In response to scientific interest in building on Mars, a research team at Northwestern University created a form of concrete that can be made with materials native to the Red Planet. The team tackled the challenge of limited water by turning instead to sulfur: it’s readily accessible on Mars, and when heated to 240 degrees Celsius, it melts into a liquid. At twice the strength of traditional concrete, their creation is also durable enough to withstand meteorite impacts — a key element needed to create viable shelters for humans.
These innovations are just a few being tested by research teams today. Concrete has been evolving for more than 2,000 years, and we can’t wait to see how it continues to transform in the years to come.