7 Civil Engineering Advancements You Need to Know

March 12, 2024 - Emily Newton

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Civil engineering is an area that lets the world operate. From roads to bridges to skyscrapers, these engineers take the reins and provide you with things that are standard in life. Civil engineering advancements continue to disrupt and improve production.

This field deals with the overlap of design, construction and maintenance of public works like roads, waterways, buildings and railways. While skyscrapers and bridges are a part of the scope, many civil engineers work on other projects that keep society afloat. What does innovation in civil engineering look like? In a sector that’s already everywhere, how can it progress further?

7 Amazing Civil Engineering Advancements

The advancements that civil engineers have achieved in recent years range from vertical farming to self-healing concrete to photovoltaic glazing. Since these workers play a role in many different infrastructure sectors, it’s no surprise that the innovations are widespread.

1. Vertical Farming

Vertical farming is a trend that is most affecting urban areas or places where regular agricultural practices aren’t possible. The idea involves a multistory building to grow food year-round using less space than traditional agriculture.

This practice would give civil engineers the chance to implement irrigation systems and LED lighting, which reduces energy, water and fertilizer use. Civil engineers could provide residents with more access to different kinds of food that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

Sometimes, even hotel guests get to see vertical farms. Such is the case at a Ritz-Carlton location in Abu Dhabi. Estimates suggest the site will provide 10 kilograms of produce daily throughout the year. Many hotel brands’ marketing materials have plenty of sustainability claims. This example shows a business putting those promises into action. Executives also expect several benefits. For example, the vegetables and fruits will go directly into the hotel’s restaurants, eliminating transport-related emissions.

2. Kinetic Energy

Kinetic energy derives from motion, and soon, civil engineers may learn how to use it to their advantage. With kinetic footfalls, for instance, the flooring harnesses the energy of people’s footsteps, a setup that will work exceptionally well in high-traffic areas. One example developed by Pavegan, a clean-tech company, generates 5 watts of energy as a person walks. Buildings can use this flooring to light up walkways, power radios and more.

Civil engineers can apply the same concept to roads — vehicles will be able to transfer energy into sustainable electricity. Genuine, lasting progress for civil engineering advancements happens when people get necessary resources through essential activities. If kinetic energy infrastructure becomes more common, energy generation will happen as people go about their daily lives.

One real-life example in the United Kingdom comes from the Telford & Wrekin Council. A stretch of pavement in the council’s jurisdiction generates power when people walk on it. The results power mobile phone chargers built into nearby benches. People commenting on the project also believe it’ll help people realize the outcomes of their actions. That’s because a screen near the pavement gives real-time energy generation statistics.

3. Self-Healing Concrete

Concrete is one of the most popular building materials. Yet it’s one of the most harmful to the environment, contributing a significant amount to the world’s overall carbon emissions. That’s why experts are looking for a way to help civil engineers and the environment.

Researchers at Bath University want to develop a form of concrete that’s self-healing. Civil engineers would use a mix containing bacteria, which would germinate when water enters a crack and produce limestone, filling the fissure before corrosion can begin. This implementation would be sustainable and save significant costs in terms of material production.

Learning what might work for future civil engineering advancements may mean looking to the past. Consider how a team of experts from several universities examined Roman concrete to determine what made it so durable. The researchers used techniques including spectroscopic examination and realized hot-mixing techniques were vital for the concrete’s longevity. The researchers also determined that the Romans had self-healing concrete, too.

4. 3D Modeling and Printing

3D printing is becoming a disruptive advancement for all industries, but it will help civil engineering. Engineers can use programs like CyberCity 3D to work with architects and model their plans digitally.

This step streamlines the process and allows for better collaboration and communication. Then, with 3D printing, civil engineers can print out the model with proper scaling for reference. They can even use this technology to create tools or materials they may need for the construction process.

A related trend is that more people are getting exposure to this technology in civil engineering earlier, and sometimes before even entering the workforce. The Ohio State University campus recently received a concrete 3D printer for construction. Fewer than 10 other universities have this model, and it’s the first in Ohio. People involved with bringing this new equipment to the institution believe it could bring significant innovations to the state’s home-building efforts.

5. Modular Construction

Civil engineering is one of the different types of engineering that works with construction, making modern life possible. One method of building that’s changing the game for these engineers is modular construction. This process entails building parts of the project off-site and transporting it to the primary site afterward. Modular construction will save on transportation costs and reduce emissions from vehicles as well as chemicals.

Although people often discuss buildings in the context of modular construction, other compelling options exist, too. One example is a collaboration to develop bridges using kits of interchangeable modular components. Participants say this approach will give them more flexibility in creating specific geometries. It should also help large projects happen more quickly, and likely with fewer on-site team members.

6. Plastic Roads

Plastic pollution is a serious problem in society, and civil engineers are trying to find a solution. One idea is to repurpose plastic waste into roads. This practice would reduce the need for concrete and aid the plastic issue.

India began testing this idea when they built plastic roads that last without damage for years. However, there are concerns regarding microplastics that will leach into the soil and pollute it, harming animals and ecosystems. With better integration, though, this concept could be a game-changer.

A University of Texas at Arlington professor is exploring what’s possible with the implementation of the state’s first plastic roads. The researcher and his team received a $950,000 grant to further their work. They’ll use those funds to investigate replacing the bitumen in asphalt with plastic, which they’ve already proved feasible through three years of work in the lab. Such progress will bring the latest innovations in civil engineering to real life.

7. Photovoltaic Glazing

Solar energy is one of the leaders of renewable energy. On roofs, windows and other building materials, photovoltaic glazing can replace the traditional glass. This setup will be beneficial for civil engineers as they can invest and implement more sustainable construction materials into their plans. It will help companies and residences that opt in as well since they can reduce their carbon footprint.

Japan’s largest glassmaker will soon put photovoltaic glazing to the test at a train station. In addition to its photovoltaic glazing that will transfer produced energy to a battery, the experimental window can collect data about temperature, light exposure and more. That information could lead to future civil engineering advancements that increase the world’s reliance on renewable energy.

The Future of Civil Engineering

From vertical farming to photovoltaic glazing, these seven latest inventions in civil engineering are shaping the future of the industry. They’re part of a larger shift developing in civil engineering, architecture and construction: sustainable infrastructure. The push for environmentally-friendly living has become a global movement, and civil engineers are helping to shape a new wave of environmentally-friendly urban design.

How Will Civil Engineering Become More Sustainable?

Many industries are experiencing a rapid shift toward sustainability today. It’s especially important for the architecture and construction industries, though. Studies show that buildings generate 39% of the world’s energy-related emissions through operational needs, materials and construction. Buildings also have a physical impact on the environment through the supply chains that provide building materials like concrete, lumber and metal. 

Civil engineering plays a key role in reducing the operational and embodied carbon footprint of new buildings. The push toward sustainability will shape the latest inventions in civil engineering as industry innovators develop new green building solutions. There are a few main initiatives engineers will be focusing on in the years ahead. 

For example, green building materials have seen a lot of exciting advancements over the past few years. Plastic roads, as mentioned above, are a great example. Green building materials are designed to provide environmentally friendly alternatives to more resource and emissions-intensive materials. Popular examples include plastic concrete, bamboo, hemp and composite lumber. 

Civil engineers will also be prioritizing new ways to integrate renewable energy into buildings and infrastructure. Photovoltaic glazing is one of the latest civil engineering inventions in this category. It’s part of an exciting push to develop new materials for generating solar power. Flexible solar panels are another new innovation in this niche, allowing panels to go on curved surfaces and weigh less. 

Exciting Sustainable Civil Engineering Projects

The buildings of tomorrow will change a lot over the coming years as civil engineers develop new green architecture technologies. However, we can get a glimpse of what the future holds by taking a look at some of today’s cutting-edge green buildings around the world. 

For example, the Hotel Svart in Svartisen National Park, Norway is the world’s first energy-positive hotel. The hotel has renewable energy integrated into its structural design so it can generate more electricity than it consumes. In the future, many buildings could employ a similar model, using renewable energy to generate their own power. 

Another breathtaking example of sustainable civil engineering is One Central Park in Sydney, Australia. Built in 2014, this skyscraper was one of the first groundbreaking designs in the modern green building movement. The building’s architects and engineers integrated vertical gardens into the entire exterior of the building, covering it in greenery. Down the road, structures like this could transform concrete jungles into urban gardens. 

On a slightly smaller scale, the MX3D Bridge in Amsterdam’s Red Light District is the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge. It’s a fantastic example of how civil engineers will use 3D printing to enhance the architecture and infrastructure of tomorrow. The bridge even has one of the latest civil engineering inventions: smart building sensors. 

Engineers have figured out how to integrate smart IoT sensors into physical structures like the MX3D Bridge. The sensors can monitor structural integrity and measure the impact of changes from things like weather, corrosion and daily use. 

Exploring the Latest Inventions in Civil Engineering

The past several years have seen the rise of some incredible civil engineering advancements, from new types of solar panels to 3D-printed buildings. Exploring these new inventions and innovations gives us a glimpse into the future of architecture and infrastructure. Moving forward, sustainability initiatives will shape the next era of innovation in civil engineering.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 30, 2020 and was updated March 12, 2024 to provide readers with more updated information.

Revolutionized is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn more here.


Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.

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