Thoughts on the Engineering Industry

A blog covering engineering, technology and business topics

The Application of Biologically Grown Materials to Building Design

Hello everyone, I hope y’all had good weekend.  Today, I want to talk about some new building materials being researched that are biological produced in a replicable process.  One of the common characteristics is that these materials will involve bacteria or something else derived from organisms.  The fact that these materials don’t require significant carbon output is one major benefit.  Another benefit for most of these materials is that they are actively reproduced over time once they are installed as well.  The building materials are described below with some insight on possible benefits and issues.

bioMason Brickshttp://goo.gl/PY68HQ

The bioMason brick is a brick of sand and cementitious material in which the cementitious material is created using a bacteria.  The brick mixture is created and over the course of 5 days the bacteria solidifies into a coral type material with the strength of a normal brick.  The major benefit for this innovation is that it doesn’t require the heat and raw materials used in creating normal bricks; this reduces the cost of the brick by 40%.  They are currently conducting experiments to research bacteria creation using the following materials: urea, salt and yeast extracts, and seawater.

I see this having one major benefit – it would not significantly change the design and build process for masonry.  Masonry strength is mostly determined by the strength of the mortar as long as the masonry unit strength doesn’t change significantly.  The benefits of the bioMason bricks combined with the low technology change requirement makes this much more effective.

Mushroom Insulation Materialhttp://goo.gl/SZcfA

This is a stiff insulation material using plant stalks and husks combined with Mycelium.  There are two forms of application being tested currently: growth inside the wall and spray on insulation.  The insulation is fire resistant and fully compostable.  Additionally, it does not contain formaldehyde or any other harmful organic materials.  This same material can also be used as compostable packaging material.

There are several benefits to this material.  Like before there is no significant change to the other building processes related to it.  It also has great applications outside of this usage alone and is completely compostable once it is not needed anymore.  The only drawback I can potentially see is there being an organic material harmful to humans that is unknown as of yet – similar to what happened with Asbestos. It has great potential overall though – it is my recommendation that more health testing be done before large scale usage.

Self Repairing Concrete:

Research is being conducted on a bacteria that can be used to repair concrete as it ages.  Bacteria engineered to thrive in dry climates is being created to be placed in the concrete mixture.  The bacteria would release Calcium Carbonate as part of the waste process which would fill the holes and cracks over time.

There is one possible major benefit I see – the reduction in maintenance required for the concrete designed this way.  However, more research would be required to determine it’s efficiency.  Additionally, nothing is mentioned about resources and energy required to produce this bacteria; if it requires a high amount of energy and time/raw material resources, it may become impractical to use.  I might also add that the issue of infection might come up here as well; but if the claim is true that it is bacteria that thrives in dry climates, the danger to living organisms would be greatly reduced.

What is your opinion on these possible advancements?  Can you see them being used in the future?  Thank you for your time and have a good week!

Reference:

Wollenhaupt, Gary,”Self-Repairing Concrete Could be the Future of Green Building”, Forbes Online, January 6, 2014, http://goo.gl/IRyzHi

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