Skip to Main Content

Strategic Business Insights (SBI) logo

Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials August 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Cassandra Harris

Biomimetic Building Materials

Why is this topic significant?

Researchers are developing biomimetic materials for application as building materials. Biomimetic building materials could improve the durability of buildings and reduce energy consumption within the construction industry.

Description

Biomimetic materials are synthetic materials that researchers engineer to replicate the composition, structure, or properties of natural materials such as bone, shell, and honeycomb. Biomimetic materials are under development for a variety of applications, including medical implants and military armor. Researchers are now looking toward the application of biomimetic materials as building materials within the construction industry.

  • Researchers from the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, England) are developing synthetic bone composed of the mineral hydroxyapatite and seashells, using self-assembling scaffolds for application as a building material. Their work is part of the work of a consortium of British universities—Materials for Life—developing novel construction materials.
  • Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts) are using computational methods to correlate the mechanical properties of natural materials such as deep-sea-sponge endoskeletons and nacre to their structure. The researchers are seeking to replicate the structure of natural materials in concrete.
  • Blue Planet (Los Gatos, California) is developing a method of carbon capture and mineralization that mimics the natural process of carbon dioxide mineralization by organisms such as coral. Its goal is to produce carbon-negative building materials such as aggregates.

Implications

Natural materials such as bone and shell display excellent mechanical properties, including high durability, stiffness, and strength-to-weight ratio. These properties are desirable to players within the construction industry. Although natural materials are often expensive and unsustainable to use on industrial scales, biomimetic materials could find application as building materials to improve building durability and energy efficiency or to reduce the material requirements of buildings.

However, biomimetic materials, which find application as building materials, have exposure to environmental conditions that are often different from the conditions in certain biological environments. Therefore certain natural materials—or synthetic materials with compositions similar to compositions of natural materials—may not be suitable as building materials. For example, hydroxyapatite—the mineral constituent of bone and teeth—readily exchanges metal and nonmetal ions with its surroundings. The application of hydroxyapatite as a building material could have negative long-term health implications for building residents: The material could potentially absorb pollutants or heavy metals from the environment and release them into buildings.

Conventional building materials such as steel and concrete (or other synthetic-material compositions) that replicate the structure or morphology of natural materials could display the beneficial properties of both synthetic and natural materials.

Impacts/Disruptions

Biomimetic building materials are in the very early stages of development. However, demand for novel materials within the construction industry is increasing. Most buildings are composed of concrete and steel, both of which are highly energy intensive to manufacture. Together, concrete and steel account for approximately 10% of global greenhouse-gas emissions per year. Biomimetic materials could contribute toward reducing the carbon footprint associated with the construction industry—which will face increasing pressure to use less energy-intensive materials.

Global demand for affordable housing is increasing; the cost of manufacturing biomimetic materials will be a critical factor in determining their potential commercialization. Property buyers—particularly in regions susceptible to natural disasters or volatile weather systems—could be willing to pay a premium for property constructed from biomimetic materials if the biomimetic materials make the property more resistant to these events. However, biomimetic building materials could be very disruptive to developers and planners who would have to reconsider building design and establish new raw-material supply chains. Biomimetic materials could receive poor acceptance from players within the construction industry.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Construction, natural-disaster mitigation, carbon capture and storage, cement, steel

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Next-Generation Rechargeable Batteries

Why is this topic significant?

Researchers are developing novel, next-generation rechargeable-battery technologies that could potentially replace lithium-ion batteries in energy-storage applications. Next-generation batteries could disrupt the advanced-ceramics and raw-materials markets.

Description

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries dominate the global rechargeable energy-storage market. However, batteries comprising new metal-ion chemistries that are alternative to Li-ion are advancing technologically.

  • Start-up companies Faradion (Sheffield, England) and Broadbit (Komarno, Slovakia), claim to have developed sodium-ion (Na-ion) batteries that exceed the energy density of Li-ion batteries.
  • In July 2016, researchers from Toyohashi University of Technology (Toyohashi, Japan) discovered the first reversible-electrode material for application in calcium-ion (Ca-ion) batteries.
  • Scientists at Toyota recently developed a solid electrolyte capable of conducting magnesium ions. The company hopes to develop magnesium-ion (Mg-ion) batteries that are safer than Li-ion batteries.

IDTechEx (Cambridge, England) estimates that advanced- and post-Li-ion battery technologies could achieve a market value of $14 billion by 2026 and account for about 10% of the global battery market.

Implications

Next-generation rechargeable batteries could address the shortcomings of Li-ion technology such as poor long-term stability, safety failure, and higher-than-ideal cost. Such shortcomings are hindering the use of Li-ion batteries in certain applications, such as grid-level energy storage. Growing portable-electronics and electric-vehicles markets are increasing global demand for high-performance, economical batteries.

Uncertainty about the supply and cost of critical raw materials for the manufacture of Li-ion batteries is also driving R&D into next-generation technologies. For example, the spot price of lithium—which comes predominantly from salt flats in South America—has tripled in the past 12 months. The cost of cobalt—in use in the manufacture of lithium-cobalt-oxide Li-ion-battery cathodes—is also increasing. Batteries with Na-ion, Mg-ion, or Ca-ion chemistries could be cheaper than Li-ion batteries, because their metals are cheaper than lithium. However, the performance of next-generation batteries must closely match that of Li-ion batteries to compete commercially with Li-ion batteries.

Impacts/Disruptions

Although next-generation-battery technologies require further R&D to reach commercialization, universities and technology companies are investing heavily in innovative battery technologies and frequently report scientific developments. Next-generation metal-ion batteries could create opportunities for the development and manufacture of advanced ceramics.

However, Li-ion batteries are technologically proven, with established supply chains. Therefore, improvements in the cost/performance ratio of Li-ion batteries could reduce demand for R&D into alternative metal-ion batteries. Areas to monitor are the development of low-cost methods of Li-ion-battery recycling and novel methods of extracting raw materials for application in Li-ion batteries. For example, researchers are developing methods of extracting lithium from seawater using dialysis and reverse osmosis. Decentralized methods of extracting raw materials could significantly affect the supply and cost of raw materials that find application in Li-ion batteries.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Energy storage, consumer electronics, portable electronics, electric vehicles, renewable energy

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: