APPLICATIONS OF NANOTECHNOLOGY IN CONSTRUCTION Construction materials are being modified in remarkable ways through the addition of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) or by altering the nanostructure of traditional materials. Nanotechnology is already being applied to standard building materials such as cement, wood, glass, masonry surfaces, stone, metal, insulation, epoxies, and lighting. Nano-objects of silica, Al2O3, TiO2, Fe2O3, clay, limestone, and carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have been added to cement to produce a range of effects. The internal nanostructures of cement can be modified to minimize water damage, the most common cause of concrete failure. Incorporation of nanoparticles can result in stronger, lighter, and more durable cement, which can be customized to dry faster even in cooler temperatures. Nano-objects can even impart new properties, such as conductivity. For example, use of nano-TiO2 in cement can create self-cleaning surfaces that reduce air pollutants.
According to a paper published in 2011 in the journal Cement and Concrete Research, production of concrete is responsible for 6-7 percent of the planet’s carbon dioxide emissions, mostly from the use of Portland cement (the most common form of cement) as a binder. Nanotechnology-based alternatives to Portland cement and decreased concrete production resulting from longer lifespans of concrete structures could have a positive impact on air quality and climate change. Protective nano-coatings for a wide variety of substrates can improve both the aesthetics and longevity of buildings and structures, further contributing to conservation of resources. These coatings can be anti-corrosive, fire-retardant, anti-abrasive, and antimicrobial. They can repel water, dirt, and oil, and they can be used for de-icing and antifogging. Nano-sensors can even monitor the structural integrity of buildings, roads, and bridges in real time.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating and cooling account for 56 percent of energy expenditures in a typical household. These costs can be reduced. Nanostructured aerogels are a new form of lightweight, highly efficient insulation. Solar panels improved through use of nanotechnology promise sustainable energy while nano-enabled smart glass can reduce energy expenditures via control of UV light in buildings. In early 2014 a multi-billion dollar deal was struck to replace copper wire used in the oil and gas services industry with stronger, lighter, and more efficient carbon nanotube wire.
This broad range of novel applications reveals the potential of nanotechnology in construction to transform society and highlights the importance of mitigating risks to maximize the benefits of this emerging technology.