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

person putting together bamboo reinforcing for concrete

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.

blue hydrogel pods

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.

close-up of spider silk

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.

curling LED lights

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.

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Images via Shutterstock, Abigail Gina and Michael Laut