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New Smart City Materials and Formats Analyzed by IDTechEx


A new MIT study finds that the number of visitors to any location decreases as the inverse square of travel distance. Since affordable accommodation is distant from a city centre, web shopping means that city centres are emptying. Cities seek more independence and security with water, food, and 100% electrification.

The smart city dream remains of only a 15-minutes walk or bike to work. With rising sea levels and global warming, much of the world is either flooded or desertified – unless we get clever. The medieval walled city will return where climate migration gets nasty.

Food Reinvented

The Agrihood mixed-income apartment complex in Santa Clara will come with its 1.5-acre farm. Making many foods in a limited space means genuine milk and meat cultivated from a few cells and aquaponics growing vegetables and fish together using polymer, glass, nutrients, and filters. Solar greenhouses power their robots. Outdoors expect solar weeders, seeders. 

Transport Needs New Materials

Materials used in internal combustion vehicles are mostly being eliminated as battery-electric vehicle success. In late 2021, the battery Mercedes S entry-level model was offered lower than the internal combustion version. Tesla order books are moving out towards one year. However, its Cybertruk, with over one million orders, has a high-strength stainless steel exoskeleton meaning no crumple zone. Will it be legal in Europe?

New Smart City Materials And Formats

Electricity Independence

Cities making and storing all their electricity is becoming urgent as the increasingly violent weather trashes distant power lines. The latest US Short-Term Energy Outlook reports that electricity generation from US hydropower plants is 14% lower in 2021 due to extreme and exceptional drought. The planned Georgia Namakhvani hydropower project is now unlikely given vehement environmental objections and the builder withdrawing. Chinese versions have cracks in the inadequate concrete. Better to make your electricity in the city.

With solar winning on price, seasonal electricity storage is a new need, and wind needs something. No wind was one reason UK power costs rocketed in late 2021. For days of storage, many options have arrived, and seasonal gravity storage looks excellent, but other options, such as pumping high-density liquids up hills, are worth a look. 

Most of the largest cities are already near the sea or a large river, so the many forms of tidal and wave power without infrastructure attract. Recyclable thermoplastic wind and tidal turbines are on the cards. They have sophisticated polymer tethers over one-kilometre long hold the kites and drones generating Aerial Wind Energy. 

MIT Management

Polymer composites are preferred for drones, miniature aircraft, and robot shuttles in cities, some 3D printed. Metamaterials promise many applications, from passive cooling over solar panels to autonomy radar antennas and solar-powered, reprogrammable intelligent surfaces RIS on buildings redirecting and boosting 6G communications. 

Optimal Vehicle Size and New Materials

Mistakes are being made with passenger capacity. Like the on-road autonomous shuttle by Amazon Zoox – a four-seater – Airbus has belatedly joined the air taxi race with a dubious multicopter design: its relatively slow cruise speed, limited range, and 4-passenger capacity are unambitious when compared with other eVTOL developers. City authorities demand inclusion – serving the disabled in wheelchairs and those with limited funds – and eliminating congestion. Robot shuttles must take 15-25 people.

Examples from Toyota, Local Motors Olli, Navya, and others efficiently repurposed as schools, taxis, buses, or freight. MicroLED displays will assist. They are non-stop charging means single-crystal silicon structural solar bodywork (Easymile) and contactless charging. 


With aircraft, distributed thrust is gaining share. This involves multiple thrusters eliminating the need for flaps, tailplane, and much of the wing size and weight. It is even employed on one ground-effect aircraft flying low over the sea. Intimately integrating thrust and aerodynamics brings materials opportunities. 

Multifunctional Materials

Polymer composite small aircraft and robot shuttles contrast with aluminium battery-electric cars (Lucid and Jaguar), with Tesla jumping to massive aluminium diecasting replacing over 300 parts. For all vehicles, extreme lightweight and the lowest drag factor with the highest efficiency powertrain are essential. Multifunctional polymers – electric, magnetic, optical, mechanical – include 3D printed electronics, in-mould electronics, solar, supercapacitor, and self-healing bodywork. 

Essential order books are for battery-electric, fixed-wing aircraft up to ten seats. Some have vertical takeoff and landing capability, but that hits endurance time so severely that they may be used mainly for extremely short launch and landing ESOL. One recent order for the safer fixed-wing VTOL with its more extended range was Brazilian airline GOL ordering 250 from Vertical Aerospace in the UK.

  “The VA-X4 is ideal for a city like Sao Paulo,” Vertical Aerospace CEO Stephen Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “Our eVTOLs will transform how we travel around high population density cities that are clogged with traffic.” 

 Uhpc Cement and Beyond

The construction industry consumes 40 billion tonnes of aggregate yearly. Construction sand is in short supply because the only river and beach sand are currently considered suitable. Make desert sand useful.

Ultra-High Performance Cement UHPC usually combines portland cement, silica fume, superplasticizer, water, and steel or organic fibres. It can have exceptional strength, even tensile, withstanding blown sand and ocean water. Enjoy very long life, retaining an excellent appearance and needing no steel rod reinforcement to rust. 

The graphene form is affordable now because only tiny amounts are needed. This initiates calcium silicate gels and optimal host crystallinity with a 400% reduction in water permeability. The final trial of 3D printed graphene concrete made in the UK High-Speed Rail tunnels comes in 2022.

Advances will be welcome in tunnels of Tesla Boring company speedily carrying vehicles under cities and hyperloop tubes taking passengers between cities at aircraft speed. Massive UHPC sea defences will be made to last, despite using far less material.



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