When I go to the World of Concrete in Las Vegas, I nerd as hard as I can. (I may have coined a new verb there).
That is, I will set goals like
- Find the head chemist of 3 companies today and learn something new from each of them.
- Find 3 people in your niche doing at least $10M and learn something new from each of them.
- Take 5 pages of raw notes and re-package them into something you could teach your team at home.
and so on...
Anyone who sets goals knows there is a time in the middle when you wish you wouldn't have set them. At WOC, it plays out at about 4PM when you are exhausted and you still have 2 interesting people to ferret out and learn from. In 2008, I stumbled upon Xypex that way. Xypex can be added to concrete to make it self-healing by growing crystals in the micro-cracks when exposed to water. This is a fascinating technology, and has served us well in niche projects for Risher Martin Fine Homes, Delz Custom Homes, and a handful of direct-to-user projects where nothing else would have worked.
Now, that may someday be supplanted by fungus! Researchers at Binghamton University have found a fungus spore that can be mixed into concrete to lay dormant until the concrete micro-cracks enough to allow water and air in. The fungi then spring into action healing the concrete. (Their article here.)
What's brilliant is that the fungus kicks-in when the concrete taps-out. Conventional, untreated concrete seems to disintegrate a bit over time. By adding this fungus spore, that is countered as needed.
That got me to thinking about cement in general. 5 years ago, we did our first urethane mortar job: that's a mixture of cement, sand, and urethane that has some amazing performance characteristics. 3 years ago, we started installing overlays made with a viscous epoxy binding decorative aggregates together. (Link to that work here.) We confidently install these over lots of substrates we would not be confident putting cement-based materials over. So, how cool would it be if there were bio-based binders that were resilient and altogether superior to cement?
Concrete engineers seem to focus on cement-like materials. However, there may be binders that have non of the problems of cement (cracking for instance) that are way "out of left field".
We will keep soberly looking, thinking orthogonally and testing stuff.
Maybe someday we will find a revolutionary new way to make stuff.