Elena Scotti/FUSION

Glow-in-the-dark technology could soon be used to light the road ahead. At least if you're in Mexico.

Mexican civil engineer and college professor Jose Carlos Rubio has invented “phosphorescent cement,” which he says can be used to pave highways and build other luminescent infrastructure. According to Rubio, the material contains electrons that recharge like batteries by absorbing ultraviolet rays during daytime that can then glow for 8 to 12 hours at night.

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He claims the material can also be charged from artificial light sources, and even works in rain or foggy conditions.

An early prototype of the glowing concrete.
courtesy Jose Carlos Rubio

Rubio said he came up with the idea when working for a Mexican company that produces road signs, which are coated with organic paint that quickly deteriorates. Rubio needed to find longer-lasting materials that could still work as retroreflectors, or surfaces that illuminate upon contact with a vehicle's headlights. So he started studying the plastic industry and how it uses photoluminescence (absorption and emission of energy) to create electronics and toys such as glow-in-the-dark stickers and vampire fangs.

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“It more or less works like glow stick technology, but we are applying it to something that can last long and is of better quality,” Rubio told Fusion. “When a glow stick bar is broken, there’s an internal chemical reaction. Instead of that, we use photoluminescence, which requires outside light.”

He says the new material was created by transforming the tiny crystals found in common concrete into a type of gel that allows light to penetrate the surface.

The Mexican engineer says it took him about three years to apply photoluminescence technology to concrete. He was eventually awarded a patent in 2014. Now he's working on several prototypes and says he’s received interest from potential investors around the world.

“The technology has not yet been produced, but we are working on commercializing it,” he said. “We are getting invitations to test the material and we have some options in Europe, where they have asked us to illuminate docks and coast lines.”

An early prototype of the material applied to a bathroom tile.
courtesy Jose Carlos Rubio

Rubio claims his material can be applied to almost anything, from highways and buildings to pools and patios. He says the product is not only eco-friendly and sustainable, but looks cool. The light emitted at night has a greenish-blue color. Rubio says he’s working on reproducing it red and purple as well.

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The glow-in-the-dark concrete is not cheap, however. Rubio says one square meter of normal concrete costs approximately $7 in Mexico, while his glowing material could cost more than three times that—or $25 per square meter.

But the Mexican engineer says his product could be a cost-saver in the long-run since it's solar-powered, but hasn't estimated how much it would cost to produce in the quantities needed to build or maintain large infrastructure projects.

Money aside, the glowing concrete is something that, if proven to work on a large scale, could shed new light on Mexico’s construction industry.