Rubio Avalos, a materials scientist at the Michoacan University of Saint Nicholas of Hidalgo in Mexico, has spent the last nine years creating the world’s first solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark cement. His groundbreaking invention could change the way we light up our streets and cities.
Much like other solar-powered devices, the glow-in-the-dark concrete absorbs sunlight during the day and slowly begins to light up areas as the sun sets. “Nine years ago, when I started the project, I realised there was nothing similar worldwide, and so I started to work on it,” says Avalos. The technology works on cloudy days and indoors too, as long as the concrete receives sufficient UV rays.
Modifying the microstructure of the cement
In order for the concept to work, the cement needed to be able to absorb and emit light. To get it to do this, Avalos added photoactive materials to the cement. However, that wasn’t his only problem: “The main issue was that cement is an opaque body that doesn’t allow the passage of light to its interior,” he says, and therefore, wouldn’t be able to absorb UV rays. His only solution was to alter its microstructure. Ordinary cement has a powdery texture which, when water is added, dissolves and becomes a gel. This gel then forms crystals, an unnecessary component that when removed, allows sunlight to enter into cement. "Some say it is a completely new material," he adds. Avalos says that his new cement should glow for about 12 hours and last for up to a century.
Positive response from industry
So far, Avalos has received requests from governments, businesses and NGOs to coat houses, bike lanes, highways, interiors and even swimming pools with the glow-in-the-dark cement. Perhaps where his cement will make an even bigger impact is in rural areas. He says Doctors Without Borders wants to use the technology "in bathrooms in areas where there are problems with the electricity and where women can be in danger entering dark public toilets."
Why hasn’t the industry rolled-out the new cement yet?
It’s expensive to create and costs about five times more to produce than regular cement. “If we want to commercialise this and cover all the requests from Europe, America, Africa, Asia that I've received, I need around $5-6 million," he says.
While we wait for the industry to solve the issues around cost and affordability, the future of concrete and design certainly looks much brighter thanks to Avalos’ innovation.
Source: CNN Style
Image source: His Electric Blues