This article will provide an overview of bio-engineered building materials, discussing the materials, products, and projects made possible through research in this area.
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The construction industry must adapt to meet the challenges of a growing population and increasing environmental damage from anthropogenic climate change. Recently, the focus has been on innovative technologies that improve sustainability and environmental friendliness in the construction sector.
Among the technological solutions offered, bio-engineered building materials have been extensively researched, with new innovative products entering the market in recent years and exciting bio-based construction projects. engineering were launched.
The problem of traditional construction
Wood, steel, plastic, stone and concrete are just a few of the conventional building materials used in construction projects around the world. While traditional building materials possess well-defined and favorable mechanical and physical properties, their use has proven problematic in recent years.
The manufacturing of materials such as steel and concrete contributes massively to climate change due to greenhouse gases emitted during production processes. Cement production alone is responsible for 4-5% of total CO2 emissions caused by industrial activity and ranks third behind the energy and transport sectors. Overall, construction accounts for around 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition, the construction industry still massively exploits virgin resources. Extractive and mining activities lead to changes in land cover and pollution, as well as carbon emissions from machinery, infrastructure and processing plants. Moreover, these activities cause enormous social problems, especially in developing countries.
Bio-engineered building materials: a flourishing field of materials research
The use of biotechnology to produce new building materials holds tremendous promise for the future of the construction industry. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way the built environment connects and interacts with the natural world. The field is flourishing, but it is still in its infancy, with widespread commercial adoption of bio-engineered materials still a few years away. Bioengineered building materials, also known as living building materials, lie at the intersection of bioengineering, chemistry, materials science, and design.
Bio-engineered building materials have several advantages that make them an innovative solution to the challenges faced by the construction industry. Bio-engineered materials that can grow, self-repair, and generate energy are the next frontier in biotechnology and materials science and provide a new architectural paradigm.
This class of materials exploits microorganisms and contributes to meeting several objectives such as reducing the carbon footprint of construction, reducing the need for virgin resources, improving sustainability, developing innovative structures and carbon sequestration from the atmosphere. Waste can be recovered in its manufacture, further improving the circularity of the construction industry.
As the world’s population grows rapidly and urbanization increases at an exponential rate, the need for solutions such as bio-engineered building materials to reduce future environmental impacts is growing.
Bio-Bricks and Biocement
Ginger Krieg Dosier, an American architect, has created “bio-bricks” made from sand and bacteria. In the manufacturing process, the mixture of bacteria and sand is placed in molds and allowed to sit for five days with a nutrient solution. The process bio-cements the sand grains to create a solid brick using microbiologically induced calcite precipitation.
His company Biomason has announced several partnerships with industry and government agencies to produce biocement and this year the company raised $65 million in a Series C funding round to accelerate scaling and l introduction of their technology.
Grow bricks with bacteria — bioMASON
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Concrete is a ubiquitous material in the modern world. It is used for buildings and infrastructure in all urban areas. While alternative materials have been proposed, many do not mimic the favorable properties of concrete. To address the challenges of using concrete in modern construction, scientists from DARPA and the University of Colorado at Boulder developed “living concrete.”
The technology contains a 3D sand-hydrogel scaffold inoculated with cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria can survive extreme conditions of salinity, humidity and temperature. The scaffold provides structural support, while the microorganisms mineralize the calcium carbonate, providing structural support.
The material is self-healing and self-replicating and can sequester carbon dioxide from the environment due to bacterial respiration. Interestingly, this material can be considered truly “green” due to the staining caused by cyanobacteria in the matrix. The self-replicating ability of living concrete greatly reduces the number of raw materials needed and the need for intensive, carbon dioxide-emitting manufacturing processes.
Use mushrooms as building materials
A 40-foot tower constructed from 10,000 mycelial bricks has been built in New York City to showcase the potential of using bio-engineered materials in construction. The technology is highly sustainable, as manufacturing involves no carbon emissions or waste.
The bricks were “grown” by mixing mycelium with chopped corn husks, placed in a mold and left to grow for five days. This process produced a light and strong brick. One of the main advantages of this innovative approach is that agricultural waste can be used in the manufacturing process.
While the field of bio-engineered building materials is still in its infancy, there are exciting prospects for the future of sustainable building technologies that will help overcome traditional problems that the construction industry is facing. confronted.
While this article has provided a brief overview of the topic, several projects and products in development today that intersect biotechnology, chemistry, design, and materials science promise to fundamentally change the nature of construction. These innovative approaches could pave the way for a more sustainable, eco-friendly and circular paradigm for industry and change the way the built environment and the natural world connect and interact.
Further reading and more information
Cutieru, A (2022) Biotechnology and Green Tech: a new material world for sustainable architecture [online] archdaily.com. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/978288/biotechnology-and-green-tech-a-new-material-world-for-sustainable-architecture
Jee, C (2020) These living bricks use bacteria to build themselves [online] MIT Technology Review | technologyreview.com. Available at: https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/01/16/130853/these-living-bricks-use-bacteria-to-build-themselves/
Biomason (2022) Biomason Raises $65M Series C Funding Round to Scale Biocement® Technology [online] biomason.com. Available at: https://biomason.com/media/28-feb-22_biomason-press-release_series-c_updated.pdf
Hart, K (2021) Building materials from bio-engineering [online] naturalbuildingblog.com. Available at: http://www.naturalbuildingblog.com/bioengineered-building-materials/