Advancing biotechnology and materials science is redefining the built environment’s relationship with nature. 11 % of greenhouse gas emissions come from building materials and construction. The AEC industry can help to reduce climate change in the coming years, and one of the most important initiatives is to re-evaluate popular building materials. These bioengineered materials could lead to a new type of building. Although innovation in these sectors is still far from broad commercial application, it has the potential to significantly alter the image of the built environment.
Living materials for the built environment are a fast emerging field of study that can help with a variety of goals, including lowering carbon footprints, optimizing resource use, producing new characteristics, and improving carbon sequestration. Living building materials (LBMs) are microorganisms with biological qualities that exist at the crossroads of design, material science, chemistry, and bioengineering. The following study demonstrates how LBMs can alter the material with which architecture operates.
Organic Growth to Replace Traditional Production
The Living Materials Laboratory at the University of Colorado Boulder studied a novel cement-free living construction material that, unlike concrete, is completely recyclable. The researchers used cyanobacteria, green microorganisms that feed on CO2 and sunlight, to create a bio cement that aids in CO2 sequestration. The researchers created the building components using the exponential growth of bacteria, indicating a new possible manufacturing approach. This technology is already being used in the real world, with some companies promoting the use of these improved materials by adding bio cement into their goods, for example.
Mycelium is another fertile field of research for growable construction materials, as mycelium-based materials have strong insulating qualities, are fire-resistant, and do not emit harmful gasses. Hy-Fi, the first large-scale construction composed of mycelium bricks that could be developed in 5 days, was created by The Living in 2014. Mycelium-based materials are being researched at NASA as a possible choice for space construction, specifically for the possibility of growing them on-site, in an environment where the number of materials transported must be kept to a minimum.
Materials that self-repair to consume fewer resources
With concrete accounting for about 9% of global carbon emissions, various research projects are focusing on finding alternatives to traditional concrete, rethinking its manufacturing process, or finding ways to reduce consumption. Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute created a self-healing concrete by utilizing an enzyme that converts carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into calcium carbonate crystals, sealing millimeter-scale fissures and preventing additional material degradation. Unlike previous trials with self-healing concrete using bacteria, this method is speedier and poses no safety concerns.
Testing in the real world and architectural applications
Newcastle University’s Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment is a collaborative research initiative that brings together bio-scientists from Northumbria University with architectural designers and engineers from Newcastle University. The goal of the project is to develop biotechnologies that will aid in the creation of buildings that are responsive to their surroundings. The project focuses on developing living engineered materials that can digest waste, assist reduce pollution, improve construction processes, and even create electricity. The research endeavor created an experimental structure on the Newcastle University campus to assist recreate a household area to evaluate the findings on a larger scale. Researchers at OME will experiment with materials, develop ways to transform household waste into heat and energy, test innovative façade systems, and affect the microbiome of the building.
At UNC Charlotte’s Integrated Design Research Lab, microalgae façades improve interior air quality while producing renewable energy via photobioreactors. The Biotechnology Window introduces air into the façade system, and the oxygen created by the algae is introduced into the building’s HVAC system. Fresh algae are delivered into the system regularly, and the carbon-laden algae sink to the bottom and are transferred to a component that transforms them into biofuel. The system has been commercially adopted and developed.
Integrated Design Research Lab at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has microalgae façades that clean the air inside and produce renewable energy through photobioreactors. A window called the Biotechnology Window lets air into the building’s façade system. The algae that make oxygen do the same thing. Fresh algae are added to the system regularly, and the carbon-laden algae sink to the bottom and are sent to a part that turns them into biofuel. Commercially, the system has been changed and made better.