Dutch treats: Making Concrete Green & Technology Clean
Scientists at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have developed a paving material that actually eats pollution, claiming it could soon become a crucial tool for improving air quality in urban areas. While three Dutch scientists say that scarcity, climate change and pandemics are examples of global problems that are caused partly by technology. But they can also be solved by new technologies, according to their book “2030: Technology that will change the world”.
Published on: 16 September, 2010
Scarcity, climate change and pandemics are examples of global problems that are caused partly by technology. However, they can also be solved by new technologies, say Technische Universiteit Eindhoven (TU/e) scientists Rutger van Santen and Djan Khoe, and journalist Bram Vermeer in their book “2030: Technology that will change the world”, published by Oxford University press.
The need to write the book sprung from the urgent realization that for the first time in human history, certain crises are genuinely global in scope, say the authors. The 2007 food shortages occurred in Asia, Africa and South America simultaneously, for example. 2008’s recession was global, and after the flu outbreak in 2009 it took the virus only days to travel the world.
For their book, Van Santen (professor Catalysis and former Rector at TU/e), Khoe (professor Electro-optical Communication) and science journalist Vermeer interviewed a large number of authoritative experts. Among the interviewees are Hans Blix (head of the UN research in Iraq), Craig Venter (explorer of human DNA), Susan Greenfield (brain scientist) and Hans Joachim Schnellnhuber (climate scientist).
The book’s creators started out by listing the greatest problems facing the world today. After having done so, they selected independent experts and asked them: What kind of technological and scientific breakthroughs are needed to prevent these threats from manifesting themselves? The authors confess some of the solutions that are put forward in the book to be ‘controversial, yet realistic’. They hope their book can give some direction to the global research agenda.
The English book will be on sale as of today at Oxford University Press. A Chinese translation is planned for 2012 (Mandarin Chinese), after the release of a Korean edition in 2011.
2006 already saw the publication of a Dutch precursor to the book, titled ‘Intelligent pills and other technology that will change our lives’*. It was written on the occasion of TU/e’s 50th anniversary. Still, the writers felt the need to tell the whole world about their ideas. The new book is a thoroughly re-written version of the 2006 publication, and includes a greater number of renowned international experts.
Rutger van Santen has been a professor at TU/e since 1988. From 2001-2005, he held the position of Rector at the university. He was awarded the Spinoza Prize in 1997, which is the highest scientific award in the Netherlands. Professor Djan Khoe is Fellow of both the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineering and the Optical Society of America. With his research group at Philips Research, he set the world record for data transport via fiberglass in 1995. In collaboration with Keio University, he subsequently beat the world record for data transport via polymer optical fibers several times.
By Matt Ford, for CNN eco solutions:
Concrete isn’t usually considered an environmentalists’ friend, but a remarkable new technology could soon be turning the gray stuff green.
Scientists at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have developed a paving material that actually eats pollution, claiming it could soon become a crucial tool for improving air quality in urban areas.
The problem in many cities is that vehicle exhausts emit nitrogen oxides, which cause acid rain and smog that damages not only human health and quality of life but also the fabric of buildings.
But the new concrete is coated with titanium dioxide, which is a photocatalytic material, meaning it removes the nitrogen oxides and uses sunlight to convert them into harmless nitrate that is washed away by rain.
Air regulations are becoming stricter, and in many busy streets the air quality standard is still failing.
–Professor Jos Brouwers
“In our tests we have found nitrogen oxide reductions of 35 to 40 percent in areas paved with the new concrete,” Professor Jos Brouwers of the Department of Architecture, Building and Planning at Eindhoven University of Technology told CNN.
Titanium dioxide is already commonly used to coat surfaces that are hard to clean — it is a component in some paints — because it functions as a self-cleaning chemical, meaning the new concrete has the additional advantage that it breaks down algae and dirt so its surface stays clean.
Brouwers’ discoveries are part of a race to explore new ways of using new technology to mitigate pollution. Chinese researchers are believed to be experimenting with nanotech polymers to coat exhaust pipes, and others across the world are experimenting with titanium dioxide.
Following extensive laboratory tests the pollution-eating concrete has now been trialed in the Dutch town of Hengelo, where 1,000 square meters of the road’s surface were covered with air-purifying paving stones.
As a control, another area of 1,000 square meters was surfaced with normal concrete paving slabs. Samples were then taken from the air at between 0.5 and 1.5 meters above the surface.
“The air-purifying properties of the new paving stones had already been shown in the laboratory, but these results now show that they also work outdoors,” said Brouwers.
“[The concrete] could be a very feasible solution for inner city areas where they have a problem with air pollution. We will continue measuring to the end of the year because the authorities need to be convinced it is a feasible technology.
“Air quality is an important issue and they know it is something important to consider.”
The paving slabs used in the tests have been made by, and co-developed with, manufacturer Struyk Verwo Infra, and are already available for use. But the applications of the technology are not limited to paving. Where an asphalt surface is required, the concrete can be mixed with normal asphalt and, according to Brouwers, it can also be used to make walls.
“You can apply it very easily in the normal production,” says Brouwers. “It doesn’t require any maintenance; it doesn’t wear off with normal use.”
Predictably the material is around 50 percent more expensive than normal concrete, but Brouwers is adamant that when the total cost of fitting is included, the overall increase in cost is only 10 percent.
“Sure, it is slightly more expensive, but if you look at the total pavement costs where the stone is one part — there is also labor, foundations etc. to calculate — then you are only looking at a slightly higher cost,” he says.
Some may argue that it is more important to try and tackle pollution at the source rather than mitigate its effects. But Brouwers sees the new concrete as a pragmatic response to a very real problem — a second line of defense — and one element in a suite of measures that should be adopted to improve air quality in our cities.
“Cars are subject to more and more stringent regulations all the time, and they are becoming cleaner; so are factories,” he says.
“But at the same time air regulations are becoming stricter and stricter and in many busy streets the air quality standard is still failing, so [the concrete] is a valuable addition.
“Of course you have to treat [pollution] at the source, but standards are so strict now and air quality regulations are still not met, so [the concrete] can be useful.”