Nanotechnology in the Construction Industry
Nanotechnology has the potential to enhance basic construction materials such as cement, concrete, and steel. By adding nanoparticles, concrete can become stronger, more durable, self-healing, air-purifying, fire-resistant, easy to clean, and compact more quickly.
Basic construction materials cement, concrete and steel will also benefit from nanotechnology. Addition of nanoparticles will lead to stronger, more durable, self-healing, air purifying, fire resistant, easy to clean and quick compacting concrete. Some of the nanoparticles that could be used for these features are nano silica (silica fume), nanostructured metals, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and carbon nanofibers (CNFs).
Here are examples how nanotechnology is being used or has the potential to be used in the construction industry:
Self-healing concrete: Researchers are developing concrete with self-healing properties, which is made with special nanoparticles that can close cracks and extend the lifespan of the concrete.
Improved durability: Nanoscale additives can improve the durability and resistance of concrete, paint, and other construction materials to wear and tear, fire, water, and other environmental factors.
Energy-efficient buildings: Nanotechnology can be used to create energy-efficient building materials and components, such as windows with smart glass coatings that can regulate heat transfer and reduce energy loss. In addition, improved insulation materials with better thermal and acoustic performance reduce energy consumption. These materials include nanofoams, nanostructured aerogels, and vacuum insulated panels.
Smart windows: Nanotechnology has the potential to greatly impact glass and windows in the construction industry. These windows, commonly referred to as 'smart windows', can have multiple functions, including energy efficiency, easy cleaning, UV control, and photovoltaic capabilities. These smart windows with adjustable transparency and heat transfer properties also reduce the need for artificial lighting and air conditioning.
Smart coatings: Nanoparticles can be used to create smart coatings that can self-clean, self-repair, and change color or transparency, depending on environmental conditions.
Structural Health Monitoring: The use of nanoscale sensors and systems can help monitor the structural health of buildings and infrastructure, providing real-time data on changes and damage.
Waterproofing: Nanomaterials can be used to create waterproof coatings for buildings and structures, making them more resistant to water damage and corrosion.
Fire resistance: Nanocellulose can be used to develop highly fire-resistant coatings for construction materials, which can slow the spread of fire and provide additional time for evacuation and firefighting efforts.
Lightweight materials: Nanocomposites can be used to create lighter building materials, which can reduce the weight of structures, improve energy efficiency, and increase resistance to wear and tear.
Air purification: Nanoscale structures and nanomaterials can be used to create air purification systems for buildings, using nanoscale filters and catalysts to remove pollutants and improve indoor air quality.
Nanofiber reinforced concrete: The addition of nanoparticles to concrete can significantly improve its strength and toughness, making it more suitable for use in high-stress construction applications.
Overall, the use of nanotechnology in the construction industry can lead to stronger, more durable, and more energy-efficient buildings, as well as improved safety and maintenance practices.
Nanotechnology's role should be considered not only for enhancing material properties and functions but also in the context of energy conservation. This is a particularly important prospect since a high percentage of all energy used (e.g., 41% in the United States) is consumed by commercial buildings and residential houses by applications such as heating, lighting, and air conditioning.
Current pressure to reduce CO2 emissions from the manufacture of cement is guiding research to use nanotechnology to alter the processing conditions of cement, therefore reducing these emissions. Concrete structures also make profit from nano-enhanced coatings that prevent graffiti and other unwanted stains to adhere on to it.
In addition to these materials, new lightweight, flame-retardant, self-healing and resilient construction materials, e.g. new nanocomposites, are expected to be helped in their development by nanotechnology.
In the future, nanotechnology may also enable the creation of smart living spaces, equipped with embedded sensing systems that allow buildings to respond to the environment and to the needs of the users.
A review by scientists at Rice University has looked at the benefits of using nanomaterials in construction materials but also highlights the potentially harmful aspects of releasing nanomaterials into the environment. The team compiled a list of current use of nanomaterials in various building applications and also highlighted potential and promising future uses.
Which nanomaterials are used in construction
Carbon nanotubes – Expected benefits are mechanical durability and crack prevention (in cement); enhanced mechanical and thermal properties (in ceramics); real-time structural health monitoring (NEMS/MEMS); and effective electron mediation (in solar cells).
Silicon dioxide nanoparticles Expected benefits are reinforcement in mechanical strength (in concrete); coolant, light transmission, and fire resistance (in ceramics); flame-proofing and anti-reflection (in windows).
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles – Expected benefits are rapid hydration, increased degree of hydration, and self-cleaning (in concrete); superhydrophilicity, anti-fogging, and fouling-resistance (in windows); non-utility electricity generation (in solar cells).
Iron oxide nanoparticles – Expected benefits are increased compressive strength and abrasion-resistant in concrete.
Copper nanoparticles – Expected benefits are weldability, corrosion resistance, and formability in steel.
Silver nanoparticles – Expected benefits are biocidal activity in coatings and paints.
Quantum dots – Expected benefits are effective electron mediation in solar cells.
One particular area for nanotechnology in the construction industry is concrete, specifically research on how to reinforce concrete to improve its mechanical performance. The video below shows how researchers are using nanosilica to strengthen concrete:
Another research focus is on how to reduce the time cement takes to harden by increasing its reactivity (see: "Nanotechnology in cement mixers").