8 Sustainable Innovations that are Shaping the Construction Sector

Guest post by Hannah Bullimore

With the UK construction, operation and maintenance industry accounting for 48% of the UK’s carbon emissions, the focus of many innovations in construction is now on reducing the construction sector's CO2 output.

Protection Supplies uncovered the cutting-edge yet conscious building materials of the future before revealing how these materials are changing the way that buildings are now being constructed.

The UK’s construction industry also needs to build 300,000 homes a year to overcome the current housing shortage. As the industry is failing to do this, materials which can shorten the time it takes to build homes and make them more affordable are crucial for a true construction revolution.

Some of the benefits of these innovative materials include:

  • Speeding up housing production

  • Improving the longevity of buildings

  • Helping buildings to adapt to their surroundings, such as in the event of earthquakes

  • Increasing natural light

  • Reducing fuel bills

  • Making construction more environmentally friendly by lowering CO2 production

Sustainable Construction Materials

1. Transparent Wood

Invented by Swedish researchers, wood can now be treated and compressed to become a transparent material.

What it does:  Researcher Lars Berglund creates the transparent wood by compressing strips of wood veneer in a process that is similar to pulping. This removes the lignin and replaces it with the polymer, making the wood 85% transparent.

Benefits: This material will create a strong and environmentally friendly alternative to plastic and glass. The material has the strength of lumber but is far lighter. It can be used in the construction of homes to bring more light in and reduce the need for artificial light which can quickly use up a lot of power. It is as environmentally friendly and biodegradable as normal wood.

Sustainable Construction Materials

2. Hydrogel

Air conditioning in office spaces accounts for 100 million tonnes of CO2 consumption each year. Architects at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona are in the process of creating walls that are able to cool themselves down, using the substance Hydrogel.

What it does: Bubbles of Hydrogel are layered between two ceramic panels. These can then be installed into already constructed walls.

Benefits: Hydrogel is able to absorb water. When the air around Hydrogel heats up, it evaporates and cools the room down by up to 5°C. The mechanism is inspired by the way the human body cools itself down. Once installed in buildings it will act as an alternative to the overuse of air conditioning, which is detrimental to the environment, producing 100 million tonnes of CO2.

Sustainable Construction Materials

3. Cigarette Butt Bricks

Smoking is bad for your health and bad for the environment; what’s more, discarded cigarettes make up an estimated 38% of all waste. Researchers at the Australian RMIT University have found that adding discarded cigarettes to bricks lessens the amount of energy needed for baking them.

What it does: Bricks made with the addition of cigarette butts require less baking time than traditional bricks. This means they are cheaper and more eco-friendly to produce.

Benefits: As the cigarettes within the brick reduce the time of baking bricks, they reduce the energy required to produce them by up to 58%. Additionally, the bricks are better insulators than those without cigarette butts within them, and they solve an ongoing pollution problem of what to do with discarded cigarettes.

Sustainable Construction Materials

4. Super-hydrophobic Cement

Scientists in Mexico have discovered that changing the microstructure of cement can make it absorb and reflect light, creating super-hydrophobic cement, also known as luminescent cement.

What it does: The cement is able to absorb and reflect light, offering an alternative to street lighting as the ground would be lit up using this luminescent cement.

Benefits: Often, cement needs to be replaced within thirty to fifty years; however, this alternative product is far more durable and will last for up to hundred years. It also offers power-free lighting and therefore can reduce the energy consumed and CO2 produced by lighting the streets of the world.

Sustainable Construction Materials

 5. Synthetic Spider Silk

A spider's web is the strongest material in the natural world. It is a naturally tough and strong material that scientists have been trying to create a synthetic version of for years. Now, with the help of 3D printing, they are closer than ever to accomplishing this feat.

What it does: Synthetic spider's silk is created at room temperature using water, silica and cellulose, which are all easily accessible. The finished product could be used as a biodegradable alternative to nylon and other tough fabrics.

Benefits: The material will offer an alternative to the textile industry, which is currently one of the biggest producers of CO2 in the world. The product will be used as an alternative to an array of strong materials such as parachutes, and eventually it is hoped that Synthetic Spider Silk will be used in creating building materials such as blocks, as well as in mechanics, making super strong car parts.

Sustainable Construction Materials

6. Breathe Bricks

Acting as a secondary layer of insulation, these pollution-absorbing bricks can remove 30% of  fine particles and 100% of coarse particles, making air within office spaces and public buildings healthier to breathe. This is particularly useful as a way to improve air within buildings in areas with poor air quality.

What it does: Composed of two key parts: concrete bricks and recycled plastic coupler, the aligned bricks create a route from the outside into the brick’s hollow centre. The surface of the bricks themselves helps to direct airflow, and a cavity removes pollution.

Benefits: This is a cost-effective way to reduce air pollution, as it requires no further maintenance once installed. It would be particularly helpful in developing countries where air quality is poor and other solutions may be too expensive to maintain.

Sustainable Construction Materials

7. Bamboo-reinforced Concrete

A natural alternative to the steel reinforcement usually used in most countries, this Singaporean method of reinforcing concrete is far more sustainable.

What it does: The use of bamboo rather than steel to reinforce concrete is more environmentally friendly and creates flexibility within the concrete that enables it to better withstand earthquakes.

Benefits: Bamboo grows at a high rate, meaning it absorbs a lot of CO2 as it grows and therefore increased production of bamboo would benefit the environment. It is also a great alternative to materials that cause environmental harm as they are produced. Bamboo also has a higher tensile strength than steel because its fibres run axially and it is flexible, so is great for use in earthquake-prone areas.

Sustainable Construction Materials

 8. Super Wood

Although wood has been used for millennia in construction, it isn’t as strong as metals used in building today. Scientists have now discovered a way to add strength to wood by boiling it in a solution of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium sulfite (Na2SO3) before it is compressed so that the molecules within the wood are strengthened.

What it does: The compressed wood is far stronger and more durable than wood in its natural state; therefore, it can be used in a greater range of construction projects.

Benefits: As this product relies on the already-abundant and natural material of wood, it is still affordable and can be created in an environmentally-sustainable way, according to its creators at University of Maryland, College Park. The wood is so strong it can stop bullets, but is far lighter than comparable materials of the same strength.


The diversity of these materials showcases how much the industry is starting to consider the environment and the affordability of construction. The construction industry is revolutionising the way that we live. Even the materials that make up our homes are increasingly innovative and futuristic.


Hannah Bullimore is a writer and blogger from Newcastle. She loves the great outdoors and writes about yoga, wellbeing and her love of books. She is currently working on a novel and her blog can be found at hjbullimore.wordpress.com


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8 Sustainable Innovations that are Shaping the Construction Sector