The concrete industry could look very different in a decade thanks to the advent of 3D concrete printing and more research into the sustainability of concrete, writes Jonathan Kozlowski. Another innovation that could be on the horizon is turning concrete buildings into batteries that can store energy, Kozlowski adds.
Big question. I know. While construction as we know it will continue, things must and will inevitably change. However, as unfortunate that improvement on a systemic level takes a long time, interruptions and problems take hold immediately. (But isn’t solving problems the best part of the job?)
It’s in this moment of flux where I’d like to spend some attention by highlighting a few ideas that might just mark some interesting trends.
I had the opportunity to speak with Alquist—a 3D concrete construction contractor based out of Virginia. He says that “at the moment, according to the National Home Builders Association, and others, we are anywhere from five to 7 million homes short, nationally, right now.” Factor in the material and labor shortages, they see cost savings with the 3D concrete printing in three ways: time, labor, and material.
Once you start to consider what concrete can do for R rating, there’s a good chance that—while not a solution for everyone and every situation—these constructions could very well be a solid option in the future. These printers apparently can be run by two skilled workers but like drones and other robotic solutions, that’s not to say they are aimed at ‘taking people’s jobs.’
Researchers have been working on how to store electricity in concrete, effectively turning a building into a battery. It’s still in the experimental stage, but the journal Buildings, published a paper (March 2021, Advanced Concrete Materials in Construction) describing a prototype that has the potential to hold a significant increase in stored charge (as compared with previous iterations of the concept, note that we are talking milliamps still). But if we are to reach the Net-Zero goal of 2050, could advancement in this area not only bring concrete to carbon-neutral but negative by providing a way to store energy ?