Sign Up Early for SB'24 San Diego and Save! Spring Rate Ends June 23rd.

Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Healthier Buildings Are on the Horizon; New Materials Clean the Air

What if buildings could break down pollution and act like forests? What if they could make occupants healthier?

What if buildings could break down pollution and act like forests? What if they could make occupants healthier?

Questions such as these have been on the minds of material developers and builders for quite some time, and some have begun to apply design principles that prioritize employees’ health and wellness. A new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) found that these so-called ‘healthy buildings’ have boosted employee productivity, health and happiness in four initial case studies.

For example, global real estate firm CBRE adopted a healthy building design for their Toronto and Vancouver offices - ensuring that employees sit by windows with natural light; installing sit-stand desks; and offering fruit delivery, among other features. 70 percent of employees said the office helped them complete more tasks in a single day, and the employee turnover rate dropped by one-third.

Materials manufacturers are investigating ways they can contribute to healthier environments. Not only is air pollution an issue in emerging economies such as China and Vietnam, but in the West as well. The City of London broke its 2017 air pollution limits just five days into the year, prompting responses from NGOs and companies concerned for public health and the environment. Stateside, according to the American Lung Association, nearly four in ten Americans currently live in counties with unhealthy levels of ground level ozone or particle pollution. Reducing air pollution and smog is critical to public health.

In response, the 3M Industrial Mineral Products Division recently launched 3M™ Smog-reducing Granules to help remove nitrogen oxides (NOX) – which contribute to the formation of smog and acid rain – using roofing shingles. The granules blend inconspicuously into various shingle color combinations, but are designed with a specialized photocatalytic coating. The coating is applied to the base mineral and the granules are integrated throughout a shingle’s surface. When the sun’s UV rays activate the coating, they generate radicals that transform NOX gases into water-soluble ions.

“The roofing granules are a first for residential asphalt shingles,” said Frank Klink, a senior laboratory manager at 3M. “The new 3M granules will help roofing manufacturers develop high quality, aesthetically-pleasing shingles that can turn any roof into an active smog reducing catalyst, essentially becoming smog’s worst enemy.”

3M submitted granule and shingle samples to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where researchers proved the efficacy of 3M’s photocatalytic materials in reducing smog. Performance testing was done with challenge gasses in a reaction chamber and NOX concentrations were recorded in real time prior to, during and after UV illumination to verify the company’s claims.

Similarly, Italy-based Lapitec has created a process to integrate photocatalytic and hydrophilic properties to a new line of its namesake sintered stone products.

The company designed and developed its Lapitec® Bio-Care line to breakdown and wash away the organic atmospheric particles which can deposit on surfaces, such as buildings’ external cladding. What’s more, the company claims they have an anti-bacterial effect and are self-cleaning.

A special form of titanium dioxide (TiO2) is incorporated during Lapitec’s production. When it reacts to natural sunlight or artificial lighting, this Bio-Care material acts as a catalyst which degrades organic matter through oxidation. The oxidization properties of TiO2 have also been shown to destroy bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus, mold, fungus and microorganisms, in turn reducing the odors they produce. The TiO2 also gives Lapitec its ‘self-cleaning’ feature with its super hydrophilic properties, which promote a washing effect to remove the polluting particles from the surface.