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Lemon, coconut and co.

Sustainable building materials of the future

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Rising energy prices and environmental protection make the economical use of energy the order of the day. The construction industry is also rethinking its approach and is working flat out to develop sustainable building materials. Good news has now come from Sweden: Researchers have succeeded in developing a purely biological insulating material from leftover wood, lemon and coconut shells that ideally climatizes rooms. Read on to find out what this is all about and what other building materials of the future might look like.

 Lemons hanging on the tree

If life holds only lemons, it becomes - insulating material." Together with processed birch wood and coconut, their peel forms a building material with unexpected potential. (Photo: Ryan Baker, Pexels)

The secret behind lemon & co.

The Department of Biocomposites at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm is very excited these days. The reason is a purely biological insulating material that could set new standards in building insulation. But let's take it one step at a time. The basis of the novel building material is birch wood from which lignin has been removed. Lignins are bio-polymers that become incorporated into plant cell walls and lignify the cell. Without lignin, the wood becomes as transparent as a sheet of frosted glass. So far, so technical. Limonene acrylate, consisting of lemon peel and the flesh of a coconut, is now filled into the open pores of the wood that has been freed of lignin. What then happens is amazing: When the limonene acrylate is heated, it becomes liquid and stores the heat. If the temperature drops, the material crystallizes and releases its heat again. A chemical process that not only fascinates, but also saves money: 100 kg of the material reduce heating and cooling energy consumption by an estimated 2.5 kWh per day.

Insulating in a natural way

The use of the innovative insulating material is still in the trial phase. But the researchers are already thinking beyond that: They can imagine using it to insulate interiors in the future - as an alternative to plasterboard. Greenhouses could also be considered. Instead of glass panes, milky panels could be used. Due to its transparency, the insulating material would be able to create ideal conditions for plants. When the sun hits the material, part of the infrared rays are filtered out and stored, protecting the plants from overheating. If the temperature drops at night, the heat is released again. This could create a constant climate and save energy at the same time.

Ultimately, even exterior facades could be insulated with the new material - provided that the building material finds its way out of the laboratory and into series production. However, this currently requires further research work.

Innenansicht eines Gewächshauses

Sieht so das Gewächshaus der Zukunft aus? Weil er Wärme regulieren kann, eignet sich der Baustoff aus Zitrone, Kokosnuss und Holz nämlich auch dafür, Pflanzen ein ideales Klima zu geben. (Foto: Philipp Deus, Unsplash)

Building materials with potential

The world's research laboratories are working hard. They are also working on other building materials of the future. They need to be as material-efficient, durable and environmentally friendly as possible. Mushrooms are also on the list of insulating materials. Or rather, their roots - known as mycelium. Research is being conducted into a process for processing the part growing underground as an organic building material. Mixed with grain residues, wood chips and other residual materials, a soft composite is formed. Dried and crushed, this can be pressed into any shape, for example to replace Styrofoam as a sustainable alternative.

Let's stay with insulation. There, a useful plant is attracting attention that is otherwise found in luxury foods or even furniture with sustainable design: Hemp . Until recently, its woody residues and fibers often ended up in the trash. But a German company is using the "waste" to produce more sustainable roof tiles from it by adding lime. With surprising potential: their favorable thermal properties make insulation superfluous, they absorb moisture and even absorb sound. And there is another point in favor of hemp as a sought-after raw material: it grows around 50 times faster than wood.

In order to build in an energy-saving way, new approaches have also been taken for some years. In steel processing, for example. When an old building is demolished, demolition companies use magnets to release the steel from the rubble. According to the leading association bauforumstahl e. V., about 11 percent can be recycled and directly reused. The rest is melted down and processed into new steel, which can have even greater strength.

The construction industry is rethinking - and it has to

Accounting for almost 40 percent of global greenhouse gases, the construction industry is a real heavyweight among emissions drivers. Alternatives for building energy-saving houses or insulating them can be found in nature or in waste products that are recycled without further ado. This benefits the environment and sparks the ambition of researchers around the world to work on ever newer building materials: from lemons to mushrooms to hemp and seaweed, but also in the area of furnishings such as furniture made from algae . And the list is getting longer and longer.

By the way, the list of exhibitor registrations for imm cologne 2024 is also getting longer and longer. From January 14 to 18, 2024, you can expect exciting innovations from the interior industry. Register now as an exhibitor .