Innovative Materials and Products Coming in 2020

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Robison Wells
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According to the National Science Board’s 2020 Vision for the National Science Foundation, these are two exciting materials to watch in the coming year.

The first seems simple at first, but is actually very futuristic: a clay brick that can grow. The brick, developed at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, has an initial advantage over regular bricks in that it gives off 10% less carbon emissions than a typical brick, but that’s not where the technology ends. The clay brick, which is not fired in a kiln and so represents less energy expenditure, is infused with Sporosarcina pasteurii bacteria. The brick not only has the strength of a typical brick, but is “alive” with 9-14% of bacterial colonies still living after day 30. If the brick is split, the pieces are theoretically capable of growing into whole units, just like a worm cut in half. While it’s still in research phases and far from the jobsite, it’s definitely a technology to watch.

Another living modular building component is the PlantyCube, a vertical farming solution that can keep greens growing year round in modular units that look something like a shipping container. Developed in Seoul, each container has smart 5-square-centimeter individual planter cells called Pickcells that contain seeds and nutrient plugs. With every Pickcell connected to the internet, the growth of each seed is closely watched and controlled—and the entire thing can be run on a single Smartphone. The company, N.Thing, believes that these modular units can create stackable, local farming options in cities.

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