Posted on July 30, 2019
Concrete is the most widely used building material in the world. However, researchers and manufacturers have been working together to produce different types of concrete to improve the overall quality and the economic value of construction.
As a result, translucent concrete has gained popularity in many industries across the world. As an energy saving and eco-friendly building material, Light Transmitting or translucent concrete is now increasingly used in fine architecture and cladding for interiors.
Here’s everything you need to know about translucent concrete and its future in the construction industry.
What Is Translucent Concrete?
Translucent concrete is based on the concept of ‘Nano Optics,’ where optical fibers act as slits to transmit light from one side of the surface to another.
These optical fibers are spread evenly through the concrete and are visible on both sides of the block. While patterns form on one side of the surface, they appear as shadowy outlines through the concrete.
A Brief History Of Translucent Concrete
The concept of translucent concrete dates back to the early 1900s, when major advancements in the field of polymer-based optical fibers led to its development.
Although the idea of light transmitting concrete had been in existence for years, the actual concept of translucent concrete was introduced by Hungarian architect, Aron Losonczi in 2001.
As the pioneer of translucent concrete, Losonczi was able to successfully produce the first transparent concrete block within two years of pitching the idea. This new material was called LiTraCon (short for Light Transmitting Concrete), and soon became popular in countries including Italy, Germany, and even China.
How Is Translucent Concrete Manufactured?
Translucent concrete is made by combining two major materials; fine concrete (with cement and aggregates like sand) and optical fibers.
These optical fibers replace other concrete aggregates, and conduct light from artificial and natural sources even at an angle of incidence of more than 60 degrees.
There are three different layers in the optical fibers – the buffer coating, cladding, and the core, and light is transmitted through the core.
The process of manufacturing translucent concrete is similar to that of traditional concrete; the only difference lies in the introduction of 4% - 5% optical fibers, based on volume, into the mixture.
Specifically, the process includes adding a layer of fibers to the mold alternatively, on top of small layers of concrete at intervals of 2mm to 5mm. The thinner and smaller the layer is, the more light it allows to pass through.
An important point to note is that translucent concrete does not contain coarse aggregates as they damage the fiber strands and stop light from passing through the concrete block.
Also, fast setting cement is preferred when preparing the concrete mix; craft clay is also added as a base for the optical fibers to set in the concrete.
Furthermore, because translucent concrete is a form of pre-cast concrete, the material is cut into blocks or panels, polished, and sent for use.
Application Of Translucent Concrete In The Construction Industry
Compared to traditional concrete, the use of light transmitting concrete is not as widespread. However, it has been used in a number of fine architectural monuments and buildings as a façade material.
Translucent concrete blocks are suitable for floorings and pavements, and are also used in staircases and desks.
Other than that, translucent concrete is used in partition walls, doors, panels, etc., and adds to the beauty of the interior by illuminating the area during day time. In addition to lighting up dark places or windowless areas like basements, it is used to construct sidewalks and speed bumps that illuminate at night and provide increased safety for pedestrians and roadside traffic.
Examples Of The Use Of Translucent Concrete
Although the use of translucent concrete is not as widespread, there are a few projects that have used it to make remarkable structures.
The “European Gate,” built in 2004 as a monument to celebrate Hungary joining the European Union, is one of the most popular landmarks in the country due to its light transmitting quality.
Another recent example is the Stuttgart City Library in Germany. Designed by Yi Architects, the structure is popular around the world for its cube-shape and translucent roof that allows natural light to illuminate the area.
The Future Of Translucent Concrete As A Building Material
Translucent concrete lets just about enough light to pass through it to make it a viable material for reducing power consumption. Hence, it can be used as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional concrete in the near future.
Other than its economic and environmental advantages, translucent concrete also makes architecture more visually appealing and increases the overall aesthetic value of a structure.
However, despite its various advantages, there are a few limitations to its usage in large scale projects.
Since optical fibers are an expensive material, the production of translucent concrete is expensive compared to traditional concrete.
Another reason why translucent concrete cannot fully replace traditional concrete is the lack of expertise. The infusion of optical fibers into the concrete mix requires skilled labor, but not many people are familiar with this technology.
Safe to say, for translucent concrete to become a viable alternative, researches will have to find economical ways of manufacturing it.
Many experts have predicted that translucent concrete can bring about a positive change in the overall market and become an economical and eco-friendly alternative to traditional concrete. As a result, manufacturers are now working hard to develop translucent concrete at a lower cost, so it can become an affordable alternative for both commercial and residential projects.