Transparent cement: Novelty product or future competitor?

I came across an article on transparent cement the other day, on Discovery News. The picture of the building was funky enough to pique my interest, and I continued reading. I wanted to know if this could be a future competitor to architectural glass. The article didn't provide the answer, so I figured I'd ask around.

“It really isn’t transparent, but more translucent,” said Rob Struble, business communications manager, growth initiatives and performance glazing, PPG Industries Inc., Pittsburgh. “It does not afford clear vistas of the outdoors or much light transmittance.” For now, he sees it is a novelty product, he said.


Photo by Italcementi Group

According to the Discovery article, transparent cement made its debut at the Italian Pavilion during the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. The technology is based on a matrix of cement embedded with resins designed to allow a certain amount of light through without compromising the material's integrity.

The product introduction follows similar advancements such as BrightBuild light-transmittance concrete from Schott North America, Elmsford, N.Y., that won Glass Magazine's Most Innovative Curtain Wall Components, large company, Crystal Achievement Award in 2008.

Earnest Thompson, director of corporate marketing and brand management, Guardian Industries, Auburn Hills, Mich., recently attended an architectural seminar on transparent cement in India where architects talked about why they use glass in designing for the IT industry in places like Bangalore and Hyderabad.  The Indian IT industry values glass to the outside to increase employee satisfaction, productivity and retention, he said.  "While there is always room for another ‘eco-friendly’ building product, we do not feel that this product provides significant competition to glass,” he said. “In addition to pure aesthetics, architects and designers use glass to bring the outside in and inside out. Studies have shown that both daylighting and visual exposure to the outside increase workplace comfort, performance and motivation.  You can't get that with cement, no matter how 'transparent.' "

What’s your take on transparent cement? Will it ever become a competitor to architectural glass?

Comments

How expensive is this stuff? And what happens when high winds hit? Does it whistle because of the holea?

The light transmittance is through fiber optic strands embedded so that they go completely through the concrete panel.  There are no "holes" to whistle.  From the structural side of things, they say that there is little loss of structral capacity resulting from the use of the fiber optics.  I'm not an expert, but I'd imagine that the panels would need to be fabricated under very controlled conditions (no field poured panels or walls.)  At best you are probably looking at a precast panel type of application or possibly smaller units that would be laid up like a masonry wall.  I would think that the energy loss through this type of assembly would make it unacceptable for all but small openings (like window glass).  Of course interior applications could be found where energy loss is not a concern. Not sure of the costs but it appears there are manufactueres that could provide you with the information if you are genuinely interested.  Probably will not be cheap! 

What a great idea! I'm excited to see if this becomes something available to us all!  Thanks for sharing this.

Personally I think as long as it’s structurally sound and looks great, there really isn’t much of an issue. I see much advantage in it, one of which is that it can reduce the energy consumption in the day by letting in natural light. I think this would be a good material to use of outdoor furniture like park benches and tables. Because of its unique translucent look, the outdoor furniture may not impose too much on its surroundings. I would love to see more of the use of this transparent cement. I think it would allow for some rather pleasing design.
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