Light-Emitting Concrete Could Soon Transform the Construction Industry

It may not be the yellow brick road, but phosphorescent concrete may soon illuminate highways and buildings. The recent invention by Jose Carlos Rubio from the University of San Nicolas Hidalgo in Mexico is exciting news for any Houston paving contractor with the imagination to envision streets and buildings that glow in the dark without the use of any sort of electricity. Other obvious applications would be for sidewalks and bike trails that light the way home in a soft blue and green hue. As unlikely as it may sound, light-emitting cement is coming to a highway or commercial building near you in the not-too-distant future.

Solar powered mile markers and signs are destined for our highways, and illuminated roadways will not be far behind. There are some 160,000 miles in the United States highway system, and most of them require some sort of illumination for those who are driving at night. Large commercial skyscrapers and public buildings, such as courthouses, libraries and schools, use more than 260 billion kilowatt-hours annually, which is equal to nearly 20 percent of the nation’s annual consumption of electricity. Rampant growth of the highway system in China will also demand the same sort of power to light the way.

This new invention created by Ph.D. José Carlos Rubio, from Michoacan’s University of San Nicolas Hidalgo could ease power demands while producing enough light to illuminate roads and structures adequately and beautifully. As more buildings are built and more highways are paved, there is a critical need for a modern, renewable source of light that is energy efficient and has a small carbon footprint.

Every Houston concrete contractor will soon be in the vanguard of this high-tech innovation as phosphorescent concrete is gradually used in the construction of commercial buildings. Skylines around the world will change dramatically. Nearly 4 billion tons of cement is manufactured yearly. That very cement, or some portion of it, could easily be integrated into commercial structures by a Houston foundation contractor.

The new cement absorbs energy from the sun during the day and emits it after dark. It is literally a roadway and lighting system combined into one product. Professor Rubio said he started working on his idea for a dual-purpose roadway when he realized there was nothing in the world like it.

Cement, as you know, is opaque. Currently, when the cement dust is mixed with water, it emulsifies and then hardens. The cement also contains crystal flakes that block incoming sunlight. It took Rubio nine years to devise a new kind of cement that does not contain those crystal flakes. This allows sunlight to pass through the cement and get absorbed deep within it. The cement becomes an energy storage device during the daytime. It gathers solar power that excites the electrons in the cement. After the sun goes down, the electrons relax and emit light, which results in up to 12 hours of light that does not require any electricity.

Another benefit of the new light-emitting cement is its longevity. Cement is made from sand, clay or dust. Because it is not made of organic substances like synthetic phosphorescent materials, it will last nearly a century rather than the three-year lifespan of synthetics.

Since cement is composed of environmentally friendly substances and because sand is readily available, phosphorescent highways will not only glow green, they will actually be a greener solution to standard concrete highway and lighting systems.

You will not see illuminated highways next week or next year. At this point, the technology must be transferred to commercialization and manufacturing on a large scale. Due to the huge, global benefits of such an invention, it will be fast-tracked so the next generation of highways and buildings become a glowing example of a need truly being the mother of invention.