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3 Awesome Construction Material Innovations

The B1M | 3:57

3 Awesome Construction Material Innovations

Fred Mills

8 March 2017

Video Views

NUMEROUS innovations in technology are fast-advancing the world of construction materials, bringing new products to market that could make a big difference to our built environment. Here, we take a look at three particularly impressive developments.


Whilst cement is one of the most widely used materials in construction for its strength and durability properties, it can crack when exposed to water or chemicals over time, undermining structures.

A research team at the University of Bath in the UK are now developing a form of “self-healing concrete” by adding mirco-capsules to mixes that contain calcite-precipitating bacteria. When water enters cracks in the concrete, these bacteria germinate to produce limestone, filling the cracks and preventing any steel reinforcement from corroding due to prolonged exposure.

Above: Calcite-precipitating bacteria in cement mixes could repair cracking.

If scaled and applied effectively, this self-healing solution has the potential to extend the life of concrete structures and reduce maintenance costs.


Kinetic paving is a new concept that harvests energy from the footsteps of pedestrians moving around a building or a public space and converts it into electricity.

A UK-based start-up called Pavegen have developed the energy-harvesting paving slabs made almost entirely from recycled tyres. The slabs flex 5mm when stepped on, generating 8 watts of kinetic energy. Each tile has its own wireless transmitter that uses 1% of its power to store and send data on its performance to a central database.

Above: Kinetic paving harvests energy from the footsteps of pedestrians (image courtesy of Pavegen).

The tiles can be installed on a permanent basis or temporarily at events. They were used on a main through-fare in the London 2012 Olympic Park, on a portion of the Paris Marathon and under a football pitch in Rio de Janeiro, powering the floodlights.

Above: Tiles were installed beneath a football pitch in Rio de Janeiro as part of Shell's #makethefuture campaign. The electricity generated powered the pitch's floodlights (images courtesy of Pavegen).

The key to success with this technology is of course traffic volume. Pavegen estimated some 12 million steps fell onto their tiles during the London 2012 games, generating 20 kilowatt hours of electricity.


4D printing refers to 3D printed objects that have the ability to reshape or self-assemble over time. The concept was born out of the Self-Assembly Lab established by Skylar Tibbits at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under research supported by Stratasys and Autodesk.

It involves strategically positioning rigid and expandable materials next to each other within one 3D printed component. When the expandable materials come into contact with water, they grow to up to 200% of their original volume, changing their shape and re-positioning the rigid materials either side of them.

Above: Rigid and expandable materials positioned next to each other within a 3D printed component. Below: The expandable material grows when it comes into contact with water, re-positioning the rigid materials either side of it.

The expandable materials effectively create ‘joints’ in the component that are activated in certain conditions, causing the entire component to adopt a different form. Depending on the expandable material used, the contact substance necessary for it to change shape could be water, or it could be heat, light or a range of other simple energy inputs.

Software enables the components to be programmed on-screen before they are printed and for that data to have effectively been programmed into the component once it has been created.

Above: 4D printing in action at MIT's Self Assembly Lab (image courtesy of Self-Assembly Lab / MIT, Stratasys and Autodesk).

Going beyond the range of small-scale demonstration pieces created to date, it’s thought the technology could be used in some form of self-repairing water pipes, in pipework that changes size in relation to water flow or in hot and cold temperature water valves.

Beyond plumbing it also has potential in medicine, clothing and footwear that adapts to climatic conditions or in childcare products that respond to temperature changes.

You can see more footage of 4D printing in action here.


This video was kindly powered by Viewpoint.

Images and footage courtesy of Pavegen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Self-Assembly Lab (at MIT), Stratasys, Autodesk, University of Wollongong, Christophe Guberan and Carlo Clopath.

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