Translucent concrete was first thought of in the early 1900’s thanks to the innovations being made in polymer-based optical fibers. However, it wasn’t until 2001 when Hungarian architect, Aron Losonczi created the first successful product. With some major benefits, translucent concrete quickly gained traction around the world.
Properties and Benefits
First, how is translucent concrete made? Light conduits, typically optical fibers, are embedded in lightweight, high-strength concrete. Manufactures typically add 4-5% by volume of optical fibers to the concrete mixture.
The optical fibers are evenly distributed throughout the concrete, and they help transmit light from the outside to the inside of the building. The optical fibers also replace the aggregates traditionally added to concrete.
One of the biggest properties and benefits of translucent concrete is the fact that it transmits light. This allows the introduction of natural lighting to buildings.
Not only does the natural lighting make the building a more enjoyable place, but it also cuts down on energy use for lighting.
When tested, the compressive strength of translucent concrete was 39.6 N/mm2. This means it can serve as a structural component in construction.
Is Translucent Concrete Really Eco-Friendly?
With all the greenwashing that happens these days, it is easy to doubt claims of being eco-friendly. With translucent concrete there is a simple answer here: yes, it really is eco-friendly. There are two main reasons.
First, the thermal conductivity of the translucent concrete has been measured to be around 0.2114 W/(m·K). With excellent thermal insulation, the use of translucent concrete cuts down on the energy used to heat or cool the building.
Other building envelopes with similar light transmission, like glass curtain walls and masonry facades, don’t have nearly the same thermal insulation.
A study published in 2022 by universities in China modeled a one-roomed office using translucent concrete to better understand and validate the energy efficiency claim of translucent concrete.
They modeled the room with a translucent concrete panel, glass curtain walls, and masonry façade building envelope and simulated the building in three cities – Stockholm, Nanjing, and Singapore.
Their study found that the translucent concrete panel model used the least energy and had the lowest cost and payback period. They found that the translucent concrete performs better in colder environments, which agrees with previous studies.
The Future of Translucent Concrete
Currently, translucent concrete is largely used in architecture as a high-end feature. It is more a design tool than a functional one. However, if translucent concrete were applied across the board as a replacement to traditional concrete, it could make a significant impact on energy use.
The biggest problem with this is the cost of the optical fibers makes translucent concrete fairly expensive. Expensive enough, that it isn’t a replacement for traditional concrete – yet.
A second hurdle that will need to be overcome is the complicated manufacturing process. This complicated process means that skilled labor is needed, which drives the cost up even more.
If we see a reduction in the cost of optical fibers and a simplification of the process of manufacturing translucent concrete, we could see more widespread use of translucent concrete.