Materials

  • FireGreen concrete is more fire-resistant

    Selecting materials with high fire endurance is particularly important when constructing tunnels and high-rise buildings, and when storing hazardous materials. Concrete made using an industrial by-product has shown better fire endurance than traditional concrete when exposed to fires of nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius.

  • Rare earth materialsSimplifying recycling of rare-earth magnets

    Despite their ubiquity in consumer electronics, rare-earth metals are, as their name suggests, hard to come by. Mining and purifying them is an expensive, labor-intensive and ecologically devastating process. Researchers have now pioneered a process that could enable the efficient recycling of two of these metals, neodymium and dysprosium. These elements comprise the small, powerful magnets that are found in many high-tech devices. In contrast to the massive and energy-intensive industrial process currently used to separate rare earths, the new method works nearly instantaneously at room temperature and uses standard laboratory equipment. Sourcing neodymium and dysprosium from used electronics rather than the ground would increase their supply at a fraction of the financial, human and environment cost.

  • Post-disaster rebuildingRebuilding a safer and stronger Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

    By Wendy Christie and Brigitte Laboukly

    Three months ago Cyclone Pam swept across Vanuatu, leaving 75,000 people in need of emergency shelter and damaging or destroying about 15,000 buildings, including homes, schools, and medical facilities. Since then, one of the most hotly debated questions within communities and on social media has been about how Vanuatu can rebuild so that it’s safer, stronger, and more resilient to future cyclones. Achieving this is not as simple as you might think. The strength and safety of buildings is critical — especially when you are rebuilding in a cyclone-prone region. But housing in particular is about more than walls and roofs; it’s also about community, traditions, culture, and supporting the way people want to live. While the strength of buildings and their ability to withstand cyclones are very important, so too are the strength and resilience of the people of Vanuatu, who have been living with the annual cyclone season for generations. The reconstruction of Vanuatu needs a diverse approach that is not solely reliant on quickly prefabricated or engineered solutions, and which keeps people at the heart of the rebuilding process.

  • InfrastructureGiant foam blocks keep approach slabs of bridges from settling

    The majority of the world’s largest cities, often built in areas near water bodies, have soft and compressible soils. For example, a good number of the 52,000 bridges in Texas have bump problems on entry due to settling of the soil under the pavement slabs. A research team at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) is using giant lightweight geofoam blocks to bolster the earth beneath roads and bridges and slow down the settling of roadways and bridges.

  • Rare earth elementsUsing UV light to separate rare earth metals

    Europium and yttrium are two rare earth metals that are commonly used in sustainable technology and high-tech applications. As these rare earth metals are difficult to mine, there is a great interest in recycling them. Researchers have discovered a method to separate europium and yttrium with UV light instead of with traditional solvents. Their findings offer new opportunities for the recycling of fluorescent lamps and low-energy light bulbs.

  • ResilienceNepal should use updated, upgraded building codes in post-disaster construction: Experts

    Urban planners and disaster experts who have been arriving in Kathmandu to inventory, assess, and make recommendations have been urging the Nepalese authorities to “Build it back better.” There are plenty of examples of post-disaster construction built significantly safer, using low-cost traditional materials and methods. Nepal has last updated its building code in 1994.

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  • Protective materialStructures tougher than bulletproof vests

    Researchers have created new structures that exploit the electromechanical properties of specific nanofibers to stretch to up to seven times their length, while remaining tougher than Kevlar. These structures absorb up to 98 joules per gram. Kevlar, often used to make bulletproof vests, can absorb up to 80 joules per gram. Researchers hope the structures will one day form material that can reinforce itself at points of high stress and could potentially be used in military airplanes or other defense applications.

     

  • Rare earth elementsA surprising source of valuable metals, critical elements: Sewage

    More than seven million tons of biosolids come out of U.S. wastewater facilities each year. About half of that is used as fertilizer on fields and in forests, while the other half is incinerated or sent to landfills. Researchers say that poop could be a goldmine — literally. Surprisingly, treated solid waste contains gold, silver, and other metals, as well as rare elements such as palladium and vanadium which are used in electronics and alloys. The researchers are looking at identifying the metals that are getting flushed and how they can be recovered. This could decrease the need for mining and reduce the unwanted release of metals into the environment.

  • Rare Earth materialsFuture supply risks threaten metals used in high-tech products

    During the past decade, sporadic shortages of metals needed to create a wide range of high-tech products have inspired attempts to quantify the criticality of these materials, defined by the relative importance of the elements’ uses and their global availability. In a new paper, a team of researchers assesses the “criticality” of all sixty-two metals on the Periodic Table of Elements, providing key insights into which materials might become more difficult to find in the coming decades, which ones will exact the highest environmental costs — and which ones simply cannot be replaced as components of vital technologies.

  • InfrastructureDamage-sensing, self-repairing concrete

    Skin is renewable and self-repairing — our first line of defense against the wear and tear of everyday life. If damaged, a myriad of repair processes spring into action to protect and heal the body. Clotting factors seal the break, a scab forms to protect the wound from infection, and healing agents begin to generate new tissue. Taking inspiration from this remarkable living healthcare package, researchers are asking whether damage sensing and repair can be engineered into a quite different material: concrete. Their aim is to produce a “material for life,” one with an in-built first-aid system that responds to all manner of physical and chemical damage by self-repairing, over and over again.

  • Rare earth materialsRecycling valuable rare earth metals from old electronics

    Rare earth metals are valuable ingredients in a variety of modern technologies and are found in cell phones, hard disk drives in computers, and other consumer electronics, which are frequently discarded for newer and more up-to-date versions. U.S. consumers disposed of 3.4 million tons of electronics waste in 2012. Continuously increasing global demand for new consumer electronics in turn drives demand for rare-earth metals, which are difficult and costly to mine. Scientists have developed a two-step recovery process that makes recycling rare earth metals easier and more cost-effective.

  • Rare earth materialsOvercoming problems, risks associated with rare earth metals

    Numerous metallic elements – called rare earth materials — are regarded as critical: they play an ever more important role in future technologies, but there is a high risk of supply bottlenecks. Small and medium-sized companies are also affected by this, and they are often not sure which of these materials they are dependent on. A recent event at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) aimed to demonstrate ways in which industry and the research community can counter supply risks and the consequence of the ever greater use of these raw materials.

  • Infrastructure protectionConcrete solutions to aging, structurally deficient bridges

    According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the state leads the nation in the number of bridges classified as “structurally deficient.” This is probably not a surprise to most residents who have done any driving throughout the commonwealth. The state’s more than 25,000 state-owned bridges are aging — their average age is over fifty years — and in need of repair. Penn State civil engineering faculty are researching methods for enhancing the maintenance and durability of civil infrastructure — including anything made of concrete, from bridges to roads to buildings.

  • Invisibility cloakInvisibility cloak closer to reality: Concealing military airplanes, and even people

    Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have used materials found in nature to improve their lot. Since the turn of this century, scientists have studied metamaterials, artificial materials engineered to bend electromagnetic, acoustic, and other types of waves in ways not possible in nature. Now, Hao Xin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Arizona, has made a discovery with these synthetic materials that may take engineers one step closer to building microscopes with superlenses that see molecular-level details, or shields that conceal military airplanes and even people.

  • Rare earth materialsIonic liquids hold promise for better rare-earth materials processing

    Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Critical Materials Institute are harnessing the promising qualities of ionic liquids, salts in a liquid state, to optimize processes for critical materials. Ionic liquids have a lot of useful qualities, and these liquids can be engineered with specific functions in mind. One such function is improving the rare-earth separation process, either for extracting rare earths from ore or recycling rare earths from discarded magnets.