exciting new materials you need to know about

Material innovation isn’t something we hear enough about. We’re knowledgeable about the latest gadgets and techniques, but not the components that help to make them so fantastic. Fast Company‘s John Brownlee recently shared several cutting-edge new materials that Andrew Dent, vice president of library and materials research at Material ConneXion, identified as being important over the next few years. All these materials are available now, but they’re not yet commonplace.

All quoted text is excerpted from Brownlee’s article.

Graphene Nanocoating

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Graphene Nanocoating

One hundred times stronger than steel, amazingly light, nearly transparent, and capable of efficient heat and electrical conductivity, graphene has applications in solar power, electronics, biomedicine, and more. But it’s a relatively difficult material to work with and mass-manufacture in its purest forms. Graphene nanocoating allows other materials to be coated with the material, giving them most of graphene’s best qualities cheaply and efficiently.

Why it Matters

The solar applications — solar shingles and photovoltaic panels — may be the most important aspect when it comes to architecture and interior design. Currently, some applications become less attractive if structural reinforcements are required to support the additional roof load. Its inherent strength also means less damage in severe storms or other unexpected conditions.

Karta-Pack (Cotton Fibre)

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Karta-Pack

This 100% post-consumer material, which has the feel of cotton but the rigidity of plastic, is made from recycled cotton fibres, sourced from the likes of discarded jeans and T-shirts. In addition to helping recycle millions of articles of clothing per year, Karta-Pack feels fairly luxurious, making it an interesting choice for high-end packaging… Dent also suggests that furniture designers could end up using Karta-Pack to create moulded furniture designs that feel like fabric, even though they’re strong enough to support a person’s weight.

Why it Matters

As Dent suggests, think of moulded furniture, most common in chairs. All the information I found about Karta-Pack states that it is both biodegradable and compostable, though it may be a different material since references are made only of “pulp fibres” and not cotton fibres. That said, cotton fibres are easier and safer to dispose of than are plastic ones.

Karta-Pack is also sound absorbing, so it could also prove useful in acoustical panels and noise buffering solutions.

Coloured Conductive Inks

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Coloured Conductive Inks

Although we’ve had inks that can conduct electricity for years now, these inks only come in two colours: silver and carbon. It gives conductive inks an aesthetic, says Dent, that has “no real beauty for non-engineers.” A new breakthrough, however, has finally made it possible for conductive inks to come in any colour you want. One potential use is in smart clothing and wearables. Imagine a jacket with an attractive design printed on the sleeve that also functioned, when you touched it, as a way of controlling your iPhone.

Why it Matters

Conductive inks could also be used in textiles, such as the upholstery on your sofa. It may also be possible to use this or expansion technology to create fabrics that change colour completely. Imagine buying a charcoal grey sofa and deciding you’d prefer it in blue today, and voilà!, it switches colour on demand. That latter part may be only a dream at the moment, but it’s closer to becoming a reality now than ever before.

ReWall Ceiling Tiles

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ReWall Ceiling Tiles

ReWall Ceiling Tiles are made from recycled beverage containers—a mixture of cardboard, plastic bottles, and aluminum—using a method similar to the way oriented strand board, a construction-industry staple, is made. The result is a material that has the same structural integrity as strand board and can be cut and screwed into like wood, but which has much better resistance to moisture, so it can be used as a ceiling tile. It can also be exposed to the elements.

Why it Matters

Aside from being a fantastic use for all those recycled beverage containers that are used and recycled daily, this material is highly practical for job sites that are exposed to the elements. Keep in mind, however, that moisture resistance does not equate to being waterproof or impenetrable.

ZrOC

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ZrOC

The process of coating most decorative metal items, like your sink or your hubcaps, for improved hardness and scratched resistance is called physical vapour deposition, or PVD. ZrOC is a new coating technique in which a mixture of zirconium, oxygen, and carbon can be deposited on metal, plastic, wood, glass, or textiles. Depending on how those elements are mixed, you can get chrome in any colour you choose, as opposed to the stock reflective silver.

Why it Matters

Variations of blackened chrome have been making the rounds on faucets, fixtures, and appliances of late to provide a different look, often in a more matte finish. The use of ZrOC would mean more colours could be offered on chrome finishes throughout your home, with probably introductory pieces being things like mirrors, side tables, lighting, and accessories.

Tethonite

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Tethonite

3D-printed objects always look and feel inferior to objects made with traditional manufacturing processes and materials. Tethonite is different: It’s a 3D-printed ceramic compound that, when fired and cured, looks identical to ceramic made by hand or industrial machines. Not only could Tethonite push the boundaries of the ceramic arts by making increasingly intricate designs possible; it also potentially has wide-ranging consumer applications.

Why it Matters

Tile companies have been using advances in printing to create more realistic looking finishes on their tiles for quite some time. Could Tethonite be the next evolution? Instead of printing the patterns onto the tiles after the fact, the tiles could be 3D-printed so that the designs or patterns would be, quite literally, baked and cured, providing a more durable, realistic, and long lasting finish.

ThermalTech

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ThermalTech

A patented lightweight smart fabric made of 100% stainless steel mesh that is coated with a solar selective coating, ThermalTech could be a boon to makers of athletic gear. The fabric excels at absorbing heat in the form of ultraviolet light, then dispersing it throughout the entire material to dissipate.

Why it Matters

While most are thinking of ThermalTech for things like workout gear, what if it could be adapted for flat roofs or building surfaces to help reduce the heat island effect that’s so common in urban hubs?

Paptic

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Paptic

Blurring the line between paper and plastic, Paptic is a new material that is easy to print on, easy to recycle, and perfect for packaging. “It might not change the world,” Dent admits, but he thinks we’ll soon start seeing it everywhere, because while it feels and looks like paper, it’s as strong and tear-proof as plastic.

Why it Matters

Is anyone else thinking of wallcoverings, especially in high traffic zones that are prone to higher levels of abuse?

RE>CRETE

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RE>CRETE

Concrete is a composite that is basically made up of a bunch of junk—mostly sand and gravel—bonded together with cement. RE>CRETE isn’t that different, except instead of using sand and gravel, it contains shredded newspaper and junk mail, ground up packing Styrofoam, home electronics wire, credit cards and CDs, salvaged house paint, dryer lint, Portland cement, and fly ash. It’s basically construction scale recycling: With RE>CRETE, tomorrow’s buildings will be built with today’s trash.

Why it Matters

Another great use for so many materials that typically occupy space in landfill. And while I wasn’t able to find any definitive information about the production process of RE>CRETE, I suspect it uses significantly less water than does the production of regular concrete, which means it’s a win-win for the environment.

Grip Metal

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Grip Metal

Think Metal Velcro, and you’ve got a good idea of what Grip Metal can do. It’s a patented barbed metal sheet that allows virtually any two, or more, sheet materials to stick together without being glued, welded, or bolted. When stuck together, the two pieces can become up to three times as strong as they were individually, making it a perfect material for furniture design, manufacturing, and construction.

Why it Matters

The strength is highly appealing, as is the ability to design and build without the use of glues or screws. As Dent suggests, it’s a perfect material for furniture design and construction.


Can you think of other architectural or design-related uses for these products?

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