- Finite, a newly developed biodegradable material made from desert sand, matches concrete's strength but has half of the carbon footprint, reported Dezeen.
- Using desert sand, which is smooth compared to the grittier sand typically used to make concrete, also could save water-based ecosystems where water-swept sand typically is mined from, sometimes aggressively, according to Fast Co. Design.
- The developers, from Imperial College London, claim the material is nontoxic and can decompose naturally or be remolded and used in a later project. In theory, Finite could be used for permanent structures, but not before several rounds of testing and regulation oversight.
This new material is especially welcome in light of the global shortage of construction-grade sand. The concrete industry alone uses approximately 25 billion tons of sand and gravel each year, and glass production is another sand-intensive market.
Some experts estimate there might be only 20 years left of high-quality sand for the construction industry's needs. Further complicating the shortage is the 50 billion tons per year that gets trapped behind dams and therefore inhibits rivers' ability to carry deposits downstream, as well as illegal sand mining.
More materials made from readily available substances or that can be recycled after their initial use are making headlines. The food industry disposes of nearly 60 million tons of food each year, and engineering firm Arup has suggested turning such waste into construction materials. This would help create a circular economy, which aims to recycle as much as possible while using as few raw resources and throwing away as little as possible.
AeroAggregates LLC is using post-consumer mixed-glass waste and recycling it into foamed glass aggregate, which weighs 85% less than stone and has insulating qualities. Researchers are exploring the possibility of using it as aggregate in concrete for nonstructural applications.
Meanwhile, new building materials and methods can help reduce buildings' substantial carbon footprint — buildings alone account for 70% of power consumed in the U.S. when taking into account electricity use and the manufacture of high-carbon footprint materials such as steel and concrete. Some manufacturers are adopting methods to combat this number, including using algae to absorb carbon emissions, developing concrete that absorbs carbon dioxide and making materials from recycled goods.
The ability to recycle construction materials also could help reduce the construction industry's waste production. A report last month from Transparency Market Research estimated the industry's waste volume will nearly double to 2.2 billion tons by 2025. North America will become the second-largest producer of waste, behind the Asia Pacific region.