Five Developments in Civil Engineering You May Not Know About

At KC, we follow the latest developments in building technologies very closely, always keeping an eye toward the future of our industry. Here are five fascinating developments that we think may be news to you.

Carbon Nanothread — or diamond nanothread (DNT) is only a few atoms across, 20,000x thinner than a human hair. It presents the latest in carbon wonder materials, theoretically superseding graphene in terms of strength. A team from Queensland University of Technology in Australia has produced a strand just 90 nanometers in length, but this discovery suggests that DNT may be viable in the production of ultra-tall structures, as DNT’s elastic modulus (stiffness) is extraordinarily high—roughly four and a half times stiffer than steel, and about three-quarters as stiff as true diamond.

Aerogel Insulation — is a material with an extraordinarily low density and thermal conductivity. It is a gel is which the liquid has been replaced with gas. The result is an ultralight insulator sometimes called "frozen smoke." It is created via "supercritical drying," which allows the liquid component in the gel to be very slowly dried without interrupting the solid structure, which might otherwise collapse as a result of capillary action during evaporation. This durable, flexible insulator is already in use in moderate quantities, but has the potential to become a core component in houses of the future.

Road Printers — not quite the technical wizardry they seem, these brick-laying machines require workers to align bricks into the desired patterns. The machine’s genius lies in the way it reduces time and effort required. By raising bricks to roughly waist-height, physical strain on laborers is lessened, and bricks are able to be compacted by gravity, rather than by hand.

Powerful Paint — designed by engineers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, this paint absorbs both sunlight and water vapor, turning the former in electricity and the latter into separate oxygen and hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used quite directly as a source of fuel. This combination of humidity and light sensitivity makes the paint viable in an extraordinarily diverse set of climates. Lead researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke doesn’t expect final designs to be finished for another five years, but believes that the product will be affordable enough to distribute widely.

Magnetic Elevators — like the MULTI by thyssenkrupp, these are elevators without cables, supported on magnetic tracks, and are ostensibly omnidirectional provided the elevator shaft has been designed to ferry the elevator car left or right, and forward or backward, in addition to up and down. This newfound freedom of motion, and liberation from cables and counterweights, allows multiple cars to occupy the same shaft. These shafts are typically designed in a loop, more like an in-building metro than a lift. The reduction in space occupied by elevator shafts increases the usable interior space of the building, and more dynamic elevator car traffic means shorter wait times both while summoning the car and during the ride.