8 sustainable innovations in construction materials

February 26, 2019 by  
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The construction industry is responsible for a large percentage of carbon emissions . From sourcing to design to material manufacturing to building construction, the carbon dioxide output from projects around the world has a significant environmental impact. This has led to sustainable construction innovations that not only reduce the production of carbon dioxide, but also improve a building’s longevity, reduce  energy  bills and increase the use of natural light. Here is a list of some innovative construction materials and ideas that could revolutionize the industry and help us build a more sustainable future. Transparent wood Swedish researchers have turned wood into a material that is 85 percent transparent by compressing strips of wood veneer and replacing lignin with polymer. This product is light but just as strong as natural wood. It can be an eco-friendly alternative to glass and plastic. When used to build homes, transparent wood will reduce the need for artificial lighting, plus it is biodegradable. Related: Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials Bamboo-reinforced concrete As a natural replacement of steel for reinforcing concrete, bamboo is gentler on the planet without compromising on durability. Bamboo-reinforced concrete also allows for better earthquake resistance. Because bamboo grows so quickly, it can easily be regenerated while simultaneously absorbing CO2. Cigarette butt bricks Smoking cigarettes is still a big part of cultures around the world, despite the negative effects on personal health . The butts also make up a significant percentage of waste. But researchers at RMIT University in Australia have discovered that adding cigarette butts to bricks reduces the amount of time and energy needed to bake them compared to traditional methods, plus the cigarette butt bricks are better insulators. Using cigarette butts in the brick-making process reduces waste and lessens the number of heavy metals that make their way into water and soil. Hydrogel The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona is leading the way in reducing the use of air conditioning by using hydrogel to create walls that can cool themselves. The architects are placing hydrogel bubbles in between ceramic panels that can be installed into existing walls. Inspired by the human body’s ability to cool itself, the hydrogel can absorb water when the air around it gets hot and starts to evaporate. This can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees Celsius, so you don’t have to keep the A/C cranking non-stop during the summer. Super-hydrophobic cement Recently, scientists have found a way to alter cement’s microstructure in a way that makes it absorb and reflect light. This finding has led to the creation of super-hydrophobic cement, or luminescent cement, which could replace traditional street lights and the energy they consume. Related: Green foods could clean up the construction industry Plus, this form of cement is more durable than conventional cement and could last up to 100 years compared to just 30 to 50 years. Synthetic spider silk With spider silk being one of the toughest natural materials on Earth, scientists all over the world have been trying to duplicate it. 3D printing has changed the game in the world of synthetic spider silk, and it could create a product made from water , silica and cellulose that is “stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar” according to Smithsonian Magazine . This could change multiple industries like textiles, construction, automobiles and medical devices. Breathe Bricks A few years ago, architect Carmen Trudell started researching the air quality problems in Cairo, and that resulted in the creation of the Breathe Brick. Inspired by the treatment her brother received for kidney failure, Trudell started wondering if she could produce a building component that filters toxins. Trudell and her team “came up with the idea of putting a cyclone inside of the exterior wall” by developing the Breathe Brick . When using Breathe Bricks to build a wall, the faceted surface of the bricks pulls outside air into ports, then the cyclone filter spins the air and gets rid of particulate matter that causes pollution. LED and OLED lighting Lighting a commercial or residential building takes a lot of energy. So, over the past decade, LED (light emitting diode) and OLED (organic light emitting diode) have entered the marketplace to drastically reduce the amount of energy used to light up structures. Not only do LEDs use just 10 percent of the energy used by incandescent lighting and 50 percent of fluorescent lights, but they also last 40 times longer. The advantages of OLEDs are the slim size and the transparent material, allowing for natural lighting during the day before they light up at night. As technology continues to advance and materials change, the cost of LED and OLED should fall, making them both affordable and energy-efficient. Via Protection Supplies Images via Shutterstock,  Abigail Gina and Michael Laut

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A modular classroom for environmental education pops up in a Barcelona park

February 21, 2019 by  
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Flexible, transportable and cost-efficient, the modular classrooms created by local design studio Baena Casamor Arquitectes BCQ offer a sustainable new way to activate Barcelona’s public parks. Inspired by timber cabins, the prefabricated pop-up classroom is a multipurpose space sheathed in wood and crafted with a focus on environmental education for school groups and families. The architects recently installed a classroom prototype, AULA K, in the Parc de Can Zam with a built area of nearly 1,200 square feet. Constructed primarily of timber, the prefabricated classroom is designed to blend into the park surroundings with the future aim of providing habitat to certain species of animals, including insects, birds and bats. “It is a pavilion destined to give more life to the parks, complementing the offer of leisure, recreational and sports with the educational dimension,” the architects said in a statement. “It must be a space open to the outside; it is necessary that one could see the trees from the classroom, to perceive the light and feel the climate.” To create flexibility in the design, the classrooms can comprise any combination and configuration of three modules — a service module, classroom module and pergola module — so as to best meet the needs of each site. The modular architecture is prefabricated in a factory and can be installed on site in just a few weeks. The prototype at Parc de Can Zam consists of the service and classroom modules and is topped with sloped roofs optimized for solar panel installation and rainwater collection. Related: Modscape installs a prefab school building that stays comfortable year-round The use of prefabrication helps reduce the time and cost of producing the classrooms, which share a uniform wooden envelope and a large opening on the facade to let in natural light and views of nature. The classrooms can be modified to generate energy, return rainwater to underground aquifers, reuse stormwater runoff as garden irrigation or provide habitat for local fauna. + Baena Casamor Arquitectes BCQ Photography by  Marcela Grassi via Baena Casamor Arquitectes BCQ

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New research links LED streetlights to increased risk of cancer

April 26, 2018 by  
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Researchers at the University of Exeter and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health have concluded that there is a “strong link” between exposure to LED lighting and increased risk of breast and prostate cancer . The “blue light” emitted by LED lights seems to affect circadian rhythms and sleeping patterns, which then impacts hormone levels. “Humans have evolved to need light during the day and darkness at night,” researcher Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel told The Telegraph . “As towns and cities replace older lighting, we’re all exposed to higher levels of ‘blue’ lights, which can disrupt our biological clocks.” Previous research has documented the carcinogenic risk of night-shift work and artificial light . “We know that depending on its intensity and wave length, artificial light, particularly in the blue spectrum, can decrease melatonin production and secretion,” study co-author Martin Aubé explained to EurekAlert . In addition to regulating sleep cycles, melatonin functions as an anti-inflammatory antioxidant. Blue light, which is also emitted from tablet, phone , computer, and TV screens, is one of the shortest-wavelength, highest-energy forms of light. Related: A glowing glass “lantern” turns this energy-efficient office into a beacon This research comes as many cities are making the switch to LED streetlights, which are more energy-efficient and cheaper than traditional lighting. Published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives , the study included more than 4,000 people in 11 distinct regions of Spain in its analysis. It also incorporated images taken aboard the International Space Station to gain a fuller sense of blue light’s impact on a global scale. Public Health England has recommended further study of the impact of LED lighting before it is more widely adopted, while the American Medical Association has recommended that municipalities and businesses install the lowest-intensity LED lighting, with shading to provide additional protection. + Environmental Health Perspectives Via The Telegraph Images via Depositphotos (1)

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11 inspiring designs we loved at Milan Design Week 2018

April 26, 2018 by  
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Designers awed and inspired attendees at this year’s Milan Design Week with fresh takes on contemporary design. From unexpected uses for wood and recycled materials to advanced lighting technology , we spotted countless incredible projects throughout the event — read on for 11 of our favorite designs from Milan Design Week 2018. Sila lamp by Zsuzsanna Horvath Helsinki-based Hungarian architect Zsuzsanna Horvath developed the Sila lamp – an elegant lamp that emerges from a two-dimensional plane of laser-cut birch plywood. The lamp’s structure is made with thin, delicate slivers of plywood connected by a flexible OLED panel. With its soft light and delicate shape, this lamp is a perfect addition for quiet and cozy interiors. Bread chair by Mika Tsutai This Bread Chair by Japanese designer Mika Tsutai is definitely an object of good taste… and good humor. Inspired by the unpredictable shape of bread, Tsutai kneaded dough — real dough, made from flour — shaped it into a chair, and baked it. The baked piece was scanned, and a digital model was created. The designer used this model to carve the same shape from wood. The unique shape reflects the random swelling of bread after baking. Macaron seat by Kalo Kalo created the Macaron Seat by using locally-recycled bits of rubber. Each seat is crafted by pressing a mold onto a wooden frame. This seat catches the eye using juxtapositions: smooth wooden legs contrast with a textured seat and a shining brass element along the edges of the dark rubber. Halo lamp by Mandalaki Designed by the Milan-based Mandalaki office, the Halo lamp is a bold combination of art and technology. Unlike most lamps, Halo does not provide neutral white illumination. Instead, it dyes space with vivid, unexpected colors. The vivid colors are produced by analog optical decomposition instead of an RGB LED. Mandalaki developed a dichroic filter to divide the pure luminous flux, or the measure of perceived light, into a vast spectrum of colors. Sundial clock by YOY You don’t need sunlight to use this Sundial wall clock by Tokyo-based design studio YOY. Although at first sight it seems to be a real sundial, it is only an illusion. Part of the “Fictionality” collection, this clock has a regular bar as the minute hand and a “shadow” as the hour hand, which is imprinted on the clock’s face. Surprisingly, the entire clock rotates to show the correct time. Plug It by Studio Oberhauser Instead of discarding thousands of small wood scraps from the industrial production of furniture, Studio Oberhauser created Plug It to exemplify the beauty of recycling. The studio suggests that stacking the comb-shaped wood chips to craft pieces of furniture can be a fun and functional game for everyone. Sea of Plastic by EcoBirdy EcoBirdy’s main goal is to reduce the sea of plastic . To do this, the company crafted children’s furniture entirely from recycled plastic. Plus, each item can be easily recycled again. The Antwerp-based designers have also involved children in this socially- and environmentally-responsible act by designing a storybook and a school program that teaches children about sustainable living. D.01 bench by Davide Montanaro Wood appears to be a stiff and rigid material, but it can be made to bend with just the right touch. Dukta is a unique incision process that can make wood into a flexible, manageable material. Davide Montanaro used this process to design the plywood D.01 bench and ensured the piece had character with its smooth shape and distinct pattern. S-Lab clock by 4R 4R made the S-Lab clock using recycled plastic. The entire production process, from collection to melting and molding was completed in-house. The designers were able to control the color, pattern and texture of the clock. With this project, the team hopes to continue working and exploring with plastic in their designs. Woodencap by Rootpecker Rootpecker has made design history by creating the first wooden cap in the world. The hat is handmade in Germany and features a smooth, flexible wood surface and intricate stitching. The company aims to source only eco-friendly materials for their unique products. Paper and Light by Denis Guidone and Tomoko Fuse Designer Denis Guidone and origami artist Tomoko Fuse created Paper and Light to blend classic and contemporary techniques. This project includes a series of lamps made from folded washi, a traditional Japanese paper. The folded light installments illuminate the area and create playful shadows. + Milan Design Week Images via Maria Novozhilova for Inhabitat

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11 inspiring designs we loved at Milan Design Week 2018

New paper-based batteries can be discarded with zero ecological impact

February 20, 2018 by  
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Forget lithium – this Barcelona-based company is creating batteries with paper. Fuelium is developing paper -based batteries designed for disposable diagnostic devices, OZY reported . Unlike regular batteries, Fuelim batteries don’t create toxic waste that requires complicated recycling processes. What’s not to love? Paper, carbon, and non-toxic metals: those are the ingredients for Fuelium’s batteries. These won’t be powering cars right now; the company says their paper-based batteries are suited for powering in-vitro diagnostics (IVD) applications, or tests that can detect diseases with blood or tissue samples . Fuelium says their batteries are geared for “single-use electronic devices which can be disposed of without recycling.” Regular single-use diagnostic tests are thrown out after utilizing under one percent of their batteries’ charge, according to OZY. But Fuelium’s paper batteries, according to the Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Research Park , “only generate the amount of energy needed for each application and do not contain heavy metals or are harmful to health .” Related: This revolutionary new paper battery is powered by bacteria Fuelium’s batteries can be customized for different applications with voltages between one and six volts, and power between one and 100 milliwatts. They’re cost-effective and can be easily integrated as the battery materials are compatible with manufacturing processes for rapid diagnostic tests. Any liquid sample can activate the paper-based batteries, according to the company, which suggests their product could be used in the areas of infectious disease, veterinary medicine, and women’s health, to name a few. Scientists Juan Pablo Esquivel, Neus Sabaté, and Sergi Gassó of the Microelectronics Institute of Barcelona started Fuelium in 2015, and according to OZY, they have signed their first contract. Esquivel told OZY their paper-based batteries are small and inexpensive, and don’t require recycling; instead, they can be tossed out with zero ecological impact. + Fuelium Via OZY Images via Self-Powered Engineered Devices and Dan Taylr on Flickr

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How Barcelona "superblocks" return city streets to the people

August 9, 2016 by  
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An increase in pedestrian-friendly public space and the reduction of traffic are big benefits of Barcelona’s Urban Mobility Plan, but even more important is the plan’s potential in reducing premature deaths. Studies have attributed air pollution as the driving cause behind 3,500 premature deaths a year in Barcelona’s metropolitan area; the staggering number doesn’t include the injuries or deaths caused by traffic. By removing space for motorized traffic and increasing attractive alternatives—the city plans to add 200 kilometers (124 miles) of bicycle paths and make bus stops more easily accessible to residents—urban planners hope that people will ditch the car to walk and bicycle. To understand the superblock, one can start with the 400 meter by 400 meter nine square blocks of the famous gridded Eixample, a neighborhood that will also be one of the first areas to implement the plan. In the current nine square blocks, motorized traffic passes through all roads at 50 kilometers per hour (around 30 miles per hour). Under the superblock plan, however, the inner four intersecting roads will be reclaimed for public space . Private vehicles may use those roads but will be restricted to speeds of 10 kilometers per hour (6.2 miles per hour). Higher speed traffic and public transport will be confined to the outer roads. Related: How to Create Community Through Quality Public Spaces If all goes to plan, the scheme could free up 160 intersections. “This plan sums up the essence of urban ecology,” Janet Sanz, city councillor for ecology, urbanism and mobility, told The Guardian . “Our objective is for Barcelona to be a city in which to live. Also, as a Mediterranean city, its residents spend a long time on the streets – those streets need to be second homes, or extensions of one’s residence, at all times … Public spaces need to be spaces to play, where green is not an anecdote – where the neighbourhood’s history and local life have a presence.” Via The Guardian Lead image via Tech Insider ; all other images via BNC Ecologica

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NASA builds more advanced shelters to protect firefighters from wildfires

August 9, 2016 by  
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Back in 2013, 19 firefighters died in Arizona because their emergency shelters didn’t protect them. NASA scientists realized materials in a space project they were working on might be useful, so they teamed up with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to help design a safer emergency fire shelter that would better protect firefighters. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgiPZbtbaOQ NASA engineer Mary Beth Wusk said in a press release, “The huge loss of those firefighters made some of us at NASA think about how our research might help improve firefighter survivability.” NASA researchers were working on ” flexible thermal protection systems for inflatable heat shields ,” and realized the material that could someday help astronauts enter the atmosphere safely could also save lives here on Earth. They contacted USFS and initiated the CHIEFS program, or Convective Heating Improvement for Emergency Fire Shelters, to adapt the space technology for fire shelters firefighters use if they get trapped while battling wildfires . Related: 7 NASA discoveries that will blow your mind It’s not as simple as just turning heat shields into shelters. Emergency fire shelters have to be small and lightweight so firefighters can carry them easily. Shelters have to guard against flames, heat, and gases. USFS Fire Shelter Project lead Anthony Petrilli used to be a firefighter. In 1994 he and seven others successfully used fire shelters to survive a fire, but 14 other firefighters died. Petrilli said, “Our project is trying to take advantage of advances in materials that may offer better protection by slowing the transfer of heat through the shelter layers.” NASA fire shelter designs have already undergone several tests, including in a controlled burn in Canada forests. While prototypes are still being tested, engineers anticipate turning in results to USFS early next year. Shelter prototypes could be delivered to firefighters in the summer of 2017, and if all goes well an updated shelter will be ready in 2018. + NASA Images via U.S. Forest Service/Ian Grob

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NASA builds more advanced shelters to protect firefighters from wildfires

Stylish coffeemaker repurposes used grounds to grow fresh mushrooms

July 14, 2016 by  
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As it turns out, the concept of using spent coffee grounds as a substrate for mushroom farming isn’t new. The used grounds—an abundant resource in university districts, creative urban centers, and in pretty much every American household—are basically the perfect material for growing mushrooms. Coffee grounds from cafés are ideal, because the forced steam of espresso machines sterilizes the grounds, but many a casual mushroom farmer has been successful using home-brewed grounds as well. Related: HOW TO: Grow your own mushrooms from recycled cardboard and coffee grounds So, how does this all-in-one coffeemaker and mushroom planter work? The top of the HIFA unit houses the coffee brewing portion of the device, which is not unlike a French press. Grounds are placed in the carafe, followed by just off-boil water, allowed to steep (many say three minutes is the golden time limit), and then a mesh strainer is plunged down into the carafe to separate the soaked grounds from the divine java. The double-walled carafe can be lifted off the base for pouring, leaving behind the used coffee grounds in a little yellow cup. The coffee aficionado/mushroom farmer then pours the used grounds into the divided lower portion of the unit. Add a little mycelium (think “mushroom roots”), spray periodically with water, and watch and wait for tiny mushroom caps to appear. The cultivation of mushrooms in the HIFA system is very similar to other mushroom-growing kits , which often come preloaded with mycelium. Because the HIFA unit fills the mushroom planter from the bottom up, it could be used as a potentially endless source of edible fungus. When the substrate compartment is full, used grounds could simply be redirected to other destinations, such as a compost pile or outdoor garden beds. + Adrián Pérez Via Yanko Design Images via Adrián Pérez

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Around the world in 80 days – with 11 electric cars

July 7, 2016 by  
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An electric vehicle race began in Barcelona on June 16 that is taking 11 international teams around the world in 80 days for a sustainable transportation future that includes long-distance zero emissions cars. The teams participating in the  80edays 2016 ELDURO race are currently sprinting across the United States with the Swiss in the lead somewhere in Nevada as of Thursday morning. The route runs 15,534 miles (25,000 km) across 20 countries and three continents. Most of the racers are driving Tesla EVs — one Roadster and eight Model S sedans — except for the Chinese team, which is racing in a DENZA EV, a German car manufactured in China, and the Hungarian team, which is driving the Innovative Modulo composite electric bus made in Hungary. “It’s a dream of mine to travel the world by car and what better car to do it in than in a Tesla,” Armand Figueras of team Spain told Metro News Canada. “It’s a once in a lifetime adventure for me… They’re just great grand touring cars…Fast, comfortable, silent, environmentally friendly. What else could you want?” Related: VW’s 10-year plan includes 30 new electric vehicles and a self-driving car system The participants will plant trees along the route to help offset any greenhouse gas emissions generated from the race. Of course, the fact that they are driving zero emission electric vehicles will significantly reduce any harmful carbon emissions. But they still have to fly in polluting planes, including to China after they tour California. The 80edays electric vehicle challenge is the second EV race following the first electric around the world race in 2012 that was won by Rafael de Mestre, who is serving as ambassador for the 2016 electric rally. “The hype of the (80edays) rally is justified because a lot of people believe electric cars are and should be the future,” said Mestre. “The 2012 rally proved that people can drive electric cars anywhere in the world and reduce their carbon footprint. This year we hope the industry realizes that there are no wrongs with EVs, only rights!” + 80edays Via Climate Action News Images via 80edays

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Playful renovation in Barcelona squeezes more out of a tiny home

February 1, 2016 by  
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