Smart cities are now much more ambitious. That means new materials are their biggest enabler, with information and computer technology dropping to an important support role.

This is according to a new IDTechEx report, “Smart Cities Emerging Materials Markets 2021-2041” explains

Raghu Das, CEO of IDTechEx, advises: “Of the trillions of dollars being spent on smart cities, the advanced materials part is rising to hundreds of billions yearly over the next 20 years. Newly multipurpose buildings make food and surplus energy, eventually with no service infrastructure to them because they treat sewage, for example, and are otherwise independent.

“Multifunctional infrastructure, equipment, and materials are making possible independence in city energy, food, and water with zero-emissions, greater security and empowerment of the disadvantaged with free travel, electricity ‘too cheap to meter’. Welcome the wooden high-rise building, but also the 3D printing of buildings using mud, trash, or green concrete. 3DP vehicles such as the Olli robot shuttle replace 10 existing vehicle types. 3D parts even use metals, inorganics, and composites, even creating 3D printed electronics nowadays.”

Das believes that smart cities will widely deploy multifunctional composites, structural electronics, smart glass, flexible glass and transparent electronic-electric plastic such as headlamp RadarGlass. “A smart window can have a large microLED display, darken when the sun shines, saving air conditioning, heat insulate and make electricity at the same time. Bear in mind that residential and commercial buildings currently use 74% of all electricity and 39% of all energy in the US, most of that for heating and cooling. That could be zero.”

Green concrete and newly-possible recycling (wind turbine blades, fluoropolymers, batteries) collapse the 16% of global warming caused by regular concrete and steel. Partly, this is because they eliminate massive tidal barrages, power stations, hydro dams outside cities, and toxigens. Flexible organics, membranes, bioplastics, advanced polymers, thermal interface materials, thermal insulation, 2D and 3D molecules, graphene and CNT materials can be used for 5G, 6G, and THz electronics.

There is potential for a $35-billion market for the varied materials providing ubiquitous photovoltaic power that silicon cannot serve. For example, a high rise will have solar windows, possibly with something less toxic than methylammonium borate on lead perovskite. The fa├žade and roof would also be different. Lightweight flexible copper indium gallium diselenide facades are already a multi-billion dollar business, with those eliminating the tiny amount of cadmium yet gaining best silicon-level efficiency are on the way. However, the roof may justify sun-tracking multi-junction lll-V compounds twice the amount of electricity per unit of area.

IDTechEx analysts have identified more than 50 gaps in the market for smart city materials, many of which are capable of creating billion-dollar businesses. Examples include photovoltaic paint that is non-toxic, unlike the three routes being pursued today, solar roads not trashed by traffic, and wave power not trashed by storms. Self-healing vehicle bodywork making and storing electricity and glowing in the dark is the subject of serious research projects. More than 200 companies develop vertical takeoff city air taxis, but their autonomy systems are too expensive and their batteries are inadequate, making them fall out of the sky in only one hour or so. Those are materials’ challenges, and they will be solved with such things as solid-state LIDAR and lithium-metal batteries.