A new form of light-emitting cement promises to provide illumination to commuters on highways and bicycle lanes at night without tapping into external sources of energy.

The light-emitting cement, developed at Mexico’s University of San Nicolas Hidalgo (UMSNH), works in much the same way as other commonplace fluorescent materials – it absorbs solar energy during the day before emitting it at night once the sun has set.

Its developers claim the material can produce illumination for as long as 12 hours after nightfall, making it a highly viable lighting option for transit thoroughfares in those parts of the world that enjoy strong sunlight during day.

Unlike many other fluorescent products which are made of fragile plastics that decay following exposure to UV rays, however, the cement is resistant to sun-damage and has a projected lifespan of as long as a century.

The team of researchers from UMSNH began developing the cement after first noticing a dearth of fluorescent or light-emitting products on the global construction materials market.

“Nine years ago when I started the project, I realised these was nothing similar worldwide, and so I started to work on it,” said UMSNH’s Dr. Jose Carlos Rubio. “The main issue was that cement is an opaque body that doesn’t allow the [passage] of light to its interior.”

According to Rubio, opaque crystal flakes are invariably produced whenever cement in its powdered form is added to water to make concrete.

“In that moment it starts to become a gel, similar to the one used for hair styling, but much stronger and resistant,” said Rubio.  “At the same time, crystal flakes are formed – these are unwanted sub-products in hardened cement.”

The UMSNH team solved this dilemma by tinkering with the microscopic structure of the cement to remove unwanted crystal flakes, thus preserving a more transparent gel-like state which permits light to reach its fluorescent materials.

UMSNH has successfully obtained a patent for the product and is currently working on its commercialisation as well as use with other building materials such as plaster.

The initial success of the product could spur other green building researchers around the world to further investigate the use of fluorescent materials in the construction sector.

“Due to this patent…others have surfaced worldwide,” said Rubio. “In the UK we received recognition from the Newton fund, given by the Royal Engineering Academy of London, which chooses global success cases in technology and entrepreneurship.”