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The commercial applications of nanotechnology in the field of building and construction include coatings, lighting, and other products such as building insulation and concrete.

Many companies identify themselves as being active in the area of nanotechnology. Where their product is generic with many applications in a wide range of sectors, one of which is construction, their product will often not appear as specific to construction. Here, efforts have been made to identify only products that are building and construction-specific, thereby increasing the relevance (but reducing the number) of products.

Products identified as being relevant to nanotechnology and construction can be categorised as follows:

  • Coatings
  • Lighting
  • Energy recovery systems for buildings
  • Insulation for buildings
  • Nanocomposites: hydrophobic/oleophobic
  • Conductive fibre
  • Wire and cable sheathing
  • Concrete and cement

Some examples of products used in construction follow.

Of all nanotechnology products introduced into the construction industry, coatings and paints have probably up to now been the most successful in reaching the market to a significant extent[1]. Paint is a pigmented liquid chemical (composed of pigments, adhesives, binder, solvent and other additives) applied to a substrate (e.g. walls, roofs and pipes) to protect the surface and to give it a specific colour. Today, paint is also used for energy conservation e.g. by modifying the reflection of light or heat by a surface. Paint is also used on metal surfaces e.g. to impede corrosion. Aqueous polymer dispersions also have widespread applications as exterior paints, coatings and adhesives, being both decorative and protective against weathering.

High scratch resistant lacquers for wooden flooring systems (e.g. parquet floors) is an emerging market with several different types of coating systems (e.g. based on the addition of (amorphous) nano-SiO2 to an acrylic binder material or on the addition of nano sized Al2O3 particles).

Various types of coatings are being developed to protect or treat wood surfaces, slowing the ageing process is by blocking the wood surface from UV light. UV protection of wood surfaces can be achieved by adding various metal oxides and organic chemicals that work by selectively filtering the UV radiation but leaving the visible light spectrum intact as much as possible (to maintain the natural wood appearance).

The surfaces of building facades are under the constant corrosive influence of weathering, traffic exhaust fumes and micro-organisms. Nanotechnology offers ways to counteract these unwanted effects e.g. via self-cleaning coatings that actively degrade organic pollutants or micro-organisms (such as fungi, algae or bacteria). They work due to the addition of small amounts of zinc oxide (ZnO) or titanium dioxide particles (TiO2) that act via a light induced (photocatalytic) mechanism. In addition to a photocatalytic effect, TiO2 gives rise to a hydrophobic, water-repellent coated surface on which water easily slides, washing dirt away[2].

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have substituted light bulbs already in an increasing number of lighting applications. LED illumination is achieved when a semiconductor crystal is activated so that it directly produces visible light. However, a low-cost, mass-market white-light diode with the potential to replace conventional incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes seems currently still out of reach for LED researchers and manufacturers. One possible solution is the use nanophosphors (i.e. semiconducting nanoparticles that emit light under excitation) in white LEDs.

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are expected to grow in use for flexible, high-resolution and low-energy consumption displays. They are still in development and a large potential market is envisaged.

The use of nanotechnology in thermal insulation for buildings results in the same or improved thermal resistance using thinner, usually porous, insulation material. ‘Nano insulation materials’ (NIMs) are based on modifying the material properties at the nanoscale by minimizing the pore size within the insulating material in order to achieve decreased level of thermal conductivity. Applications include aerogels, vacuum insulation panels, and coatings (including, for example, Phase Change Materials (PCM) and electrochromic windows).

Additional products are identified in the database.

[1] van Broekhuizen et al. (2009), Nano‐products in the European Construction Industry, Amsterdam

[2] van Broekhuizen et al. (2009), Nano‐products in the European Construction Industry, p.37

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