• InfrastructureFor sustainable wooden skyscrapers, the sky’s the limit

    Australia will soon hold the record for the world’s tallest timber office building, built in Brisbane. With the help of the University of Queensland’s new research hub — Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Timber Hub — wooden skyscrapers could become the norm. “This Hub represents an opportunity to transform not just our ability to design and construct healthy, resilient, sustainable tall timber buildings; but to engage and transform the entire industry – from the sustainable forests that provide the raw timber, right through to assembling the building safely on site,” said the Hub director.

  • Earthquakes“Shape memory” metals for earthquake-resistant construction

    Researchers have found an economical way to improve the properties of some “shape memory” metals, known for their ability to return to their original shape after being deformed. The method could make way for the mass production of these improved metals for a variety of applications, including earthquake-resistant construction materials.

  • Rare earth elementsUsing metal-digesting microbes to recycle electronics

    If you have never heard of neodymium and dysprosium, you are probably not alone. But chances are, you and nearly every other working-age adult in the United States has a small amount of these metals in your pocket. This is because these so-called “rare earth elements” are key components for cellular phones, among many other high-tech devices. The problem with rare earth elements, as their name suggests, is that they are not often found in economically exploitable ore deposits. They are also very difficult to recycle from, say, used cellphones.

  • Rare earth materialsMagnets manufactured entirely from U.S.-sourced rare earths

    Rare-earth magnets are used in a wide and ever-increasing number of modern technologies, and the ability to produce them domestically could have broad positive impact on national economy and security. The Critical Materials Institute, a U.S. Department of Energy Innovation Hub, has fabricated magnets made entirely of domestically sourced and refined rare-earth metals.

  • Helium supplyUpdating a nearly 100-year-old law could shore up U.S. helium supply

    Helium is essential for MRIs, the fiber optics that deliver images to our TVs, scientific research, and of course, party balloons. In the past decade, helium prices have sky-rocketed due to supply shortages. But if small updates are made to an old law, the United States could boost its domestic helium output and help keep critical medical tests and electronics running.

  • Safer buildings20-story earthquake-safe buildings made from wood

    Engineering researchers are putting a two-story wooden structure through a series of powerful earthquake simulations, using a lab shake table. The goal is to gather the data required to design wood buildings as tall as twenty stories that do not suffer significant damage during large earthquakes.

  • InfrastructureHybrid structures combining concrete and wood increasingly popular

    Houses can be made of wood, as they were in the past – or of concrete, as they are today. To build for tomorrow, the two building methods are being combined: these hybrid structures, which contain both wood and concrete elements, are becoming increasingly popular in contemporary architecture. The building material offers the construction industry new possibilities and is based in large part on renewable resources.

  • Building safetyNew bracing for durable structures in earthquake-prone regions

    Across the world, severe earthquakes regularly shake entire regions. More than two billion people live in danger zones – many of them in structures not built to withstand an earthquake. Together with partners from industry, researchers are developing building materials designed to prevent buildings from collapsing in a natural disaster.

     

  • Building safetyFact Check: is the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower actually banned in Britain?

    By Stephen Ledbetter

    Cladding was added on tower blocks built in the 1960s and 1970s such as Grenfell Tower to improve the thermal performance of the flats and in some cases prevent material deteriorating and falling from the existing facades. These flats are often homes to some of the poorest in society and improving the facades may cut their energy bills to less than a half. This also means that they can adequately heat their homes to avoid condensation and mold growth inside. After the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, the Metropolitan Police is considering whether to bring manslaughter (or other) charges relating to the tower block’s insulation, which it says failed safety tests.

  • Building safetyGrenfell fire aftermath: how 20th-century buildings can be made safer, not more dangerous

    By Laura B Alvarez

    Despite the horror of the fire at Grenfell Tower, UK regulations for tall buildings are ahead of the curve in comparison with other countries. There have been huge improvements in construction materials and technological solutions throughout the modern era. And testing and certification methods have became even more rigorous, to ensure the quality of new products. Of course, many people are now asking what more could have been done to prevent the tragic loss of life in the Grenfell blaze. The truth is, while architects and engineers can work to mitigate the risk of fire, it cannot be completely eliminated. The addition of some materials to buildings, such as cladding, will obviously now come under scrutiny. But there are several improvements that can be made to old 20th-century tower blocks like Grenfell, to make them safer places to live.

  • Building safetyGrenfell Tower disaster: how did the fire spread so quickly?

    By Feng Fu

    In the middle of the night, while most residents were sleeping, a devastating fire started at Grenfell Tower in London. From an engineering perspective, there are a number of factors in the design of the 24-storey tower block that may have contributed to the speed and scale of the blaze. Most of the current guidelines across the world contain detailed design requirements for fire safety such as evacuation routes, compartmentation and structural fire design. But Grenfell Tower was built in 1974. At that time, the rules and regulations were not as clear and well-developed as they are now.

  • Building safetyNew materials to make buildings better, safer

    A new type of construction material, called cross-laminated timber, is currently approved for buildings with up to six stories. Designers would like to use it in taller buildings because it is environmentally sustainable and can speed the construction process. To use it for those taller buildings, the industry needs to understand how the timber would perform during a fire. NIST experiments are measuring the material’s structural performance and the amount of energy the timber contributes to the fire.

  • Rare Earth mineralsQuicker identification of chemicals used in rare-Earth processing methods

    Rare-earth metals are vital to many modern energy technologies, but high commercial demand and mining challenges have made optimizing the U.S. production and use of them of vital importance. Testing and developing more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of extracting rare-earth metals as speedily as possible is thus important – and DOE’s Critical Materials Institute has developed a computer program, called ParFit, that can vastly reduce the amount of time spent identifying promising chemical compounds used in rare-Earth processing methods.

  • InfrastructureWater-repelling, long-lasting concrete could make potholes disappear

    Water is concrete’s ultimate enemy. Although concrete withstands constant beatings from cars and trucks, water can break it down, pooling on its surface and infiltrating the tiniest cracks. Add freezing and thawing cycles, and it is no wonder roads need frequent repairs. To keep Mother Nature out, researchers have created a water-repelling concrete. The concrete is not only water-repellent – it isdesigned to have a service life of up to 120 years.

  • Critical minerals World’s mineral resource will not be exhausted any time soon

    Recent articles have declared that deposits of mineral raw materials (copper, zinc, etc.) will be exhausted within a few decades. An international team, including the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, has shown that this is incorrect and that the resources of most mineral commodities are sufficient to meet the growing demand from industrialization and future demographic changes. Future shortages will arise not from physical exhaustion of different metals, but from causes related to industrial exploitation, the economy, and environmental or societal pressures on the use of mineral resources.