Material science plays a fundamental role in building design. From solid foundations like validating mechanical properties to lofty ambitions like developing a sustainable future for the construction industry, materials scientists are at work making buildings more effective, efficient, and sustainable.
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Materials play a crucial role in architecture and its design and construction. Materials science has evolved to meet the needs of architects, engineers, and builders. New technologies like digital fabrication, robotics, and 3D printing have spurred the creation of innovative construction methods and revitalized interest in materials as a driving force for unique architectural designs.
Today, materials science has shifted from simply explaining materials to actively designing them. This shift has led to a partnership between architects, engineers, and materials scientists, who collaborate to develop new material systems for various applications in materials-based design research.
Materials Science in Construction
Materials scientists in construction explore the science behind fundamental building materials like metals, cement, concrete, polymers, timber, bricks, glass, and plaster. The field delves into the crucial factors that impact these materials in situ, such as degradation and their performance and durability.
Several factors are driving the need for improvements in building construction. The global population is growing and becoming increasingly urbanized, and building construction is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and land use changes. Furthermore, material resources are becoming scarce.
Additionally, housing issues in various countries demonstrate that the current system may not be meeting the needs of a significant portion of society for a number of economic, social, and environmental reasons.
The construction sector contributes 11% to global carbon emissions and 40% to total greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment. Despite this, construction activity shows no decrease.
Developing and using more sustainable building materials and reducing construction projects are crucial for mitigating the negative effects of human-induced climate change.
Materials Scientists Work At The Cutting Edge of Advanced Construction
These challenges are by no means going unnoticed in the materials science research community. The large amount of environmental harm caused by the construction industry worldwide means that scalable innovation in this sector can have a relatively large positive impact on humanity's relationship with its one habitable planet.
Replacing Cement with Geopolymers
An international research team from Sharda University, India, and the University of Kassel, Germany recently explored the potential application of geopolymer materials as a cement alternative.
The production of Portland cement results in 5-7% CO2 emissions contributing to global warming. Geopolymer cements offer a more environmentally-friendly alternative, emitting less CO2.
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This technology utilizes industrial byproducts containing aluminosilicate phases with minimal harm to the environment.
Geopolymer cements are made from secondary materials such as fly ash, metakaolin, calcined clays, and zeolite, activated by alkali/alkali silicate solutions.
Engineered Wood and Bamboo Composites for Structures
Structural engineers from Tongji University, Shanghai, China are applying modern materials techniques to ancient and renewable building materials: bamboo and wood.
Recently, they conducted a review of the latest engineered wood and bamboo composites. The study evaluated three novel engineered wood composites (fiber-reinforced polymer, reinforced glulam, cross-laminated timber, and wood scrimber) and three novel engineered bamboo composites (laminated bamboo lumber, glued-laminated bamboo, and bamboo scrimber) with respect to their manufacturing processes, modeling techniques, and mechanical properties.
The study compared the mechanical properties and densities of these engineered composites. The paper also presented several examples of structures built with these engineered composites and discussed their potential uses and limitations.
Material scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, are also looking at bamboo's potential applications in construction.
A recent study focused on the mechanical properties of engineered bamboo, which was made from processing raw bamboo into a laminated composite.
The study compared the properties of two types of commercially available engineered bamboo products, bamboo scrimber, and laminated bamboo sheets, to those of timber and engineered timber products. The results showed that the properties of engineered bamboo products were comparable to or better than those of timber and timber-based products.
The study also highlighted potential limitations in using engineered bamboo for structural design and added to the growing body of research on this renewable material.
Applying Machine Learning in Construction Materials Science
Civil and environmental engineering researchers at Ontario, Canada's Western University recently applied machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, to materials science for building design.
Predicting the mechanical properties of concrete accurately has been a challenge due to design code requirements. With new concrete mixtures and applications emerging, researchers are seeking reliable models for mechanical strength prediction.
Empirical and statistical models, like linear and nonlinear regression, are commonly used but can be time-consuming to develop and provide inaccurate results when concrete properties and mixture composition are complex.
To address these limitations, several Machine Learning models have been proposed as an alternative approach. The study in question evaluated these ML models, including artificial neural networks, support vector machines, decision trees, and evolutionary algorithms, for predicting concrete's mechanical properties.
The study analyzed and discussed the performance and practicality of each model, identifying recommendations, current knowledge gaps, and areas for future research.
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References and Further Reading
Bechthold, M., and J. Weaver (2017). Materials science and architecture. Nature Reviews Materials. doi.org/10.1038/natrevmats.2017.82.
Ben Chaabene, W., et al (2020). Machine learning prediction of mechanical properties of concrete: Critical review. Construction and Building Materials. doi.org/10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2020.119889.
Pilkington, B. (2021). Green Building: Where Are We Now? [Online] AZO Build. Available at: https://www.azobuild.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=8453 (Accessed on 6 February 2023).
Sharma, B., et al (2015). Engineered bamboo for structural applications. Construction and Building Materials. doi.org/10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2015.01.077.
Singh, N.B., and B. Middendorf (2020). Geopolymers as an alternative to Portland cement: An overview. Construction and Building Materials. doi.org/10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2019.117455.
Sun, X., et al (2020). Novel engineered wood and bamboo composites for structural applications: State-of-art of manufacturing technology and mechanical performance evaluation. Construction and Building Materials. doi.org/10.1016/j.conbuildmat.2020.118751.