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10 Wild Materials That Could Help Save the Earth [Slideshow]

We take the stuff that makes up our world for granted. Plastic is plastic, right? And wood is wood? Absolutely not: Materials are still a hotbed of innovation, often involving ideas to help save the planet in imperceptible ways that mask their huge impact. Those innovations are highlighted in this year’s Material of the Year awards, given out by Material ConneXion.

That company is pretty ideally situated to give the awards: If you’re a designer looking to find a material for manufacturing something that seems impossible, start with them. And if you’re a brilliant chemist with a world changing idea about plastics, you also want to start with them.

This year, they’ve given their grand prize to a new type of concrete that emits 90% less carbon dioxide when being produced — a huge reduction, given that some scientists believe that concrete production causes 5% of mankind’s carbon footprint. But the nine other materials cited in the awards are equally amazing, involving fungus-grown replacements for sytrofoam, plastics blown up to twice their size, and electrical circuits made of carbon nanotubes. Take a look.CK