A unique biotechnology start-up company have developed a method of growing bricks from nothing more than bacteria and naturally abundant materials. Having recently won first place in the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge, bioMason has developed a method of growing materials by employing microorganisms. Arguing that the four traditional building materials – concrete, glass, steel and wood – both contain a significant level of embodied energy and heavily rely on limited natural resources, their answer is in high strength natural biological cements (such as coral) that can be used “without negative impacts to the surrounding environment.”
According to bioMason, “global cement production in 2008 amounted to 2.8 billion tons, with equivalent quantities of CO2 released into the atmosphere”. The energy intensive series of processes, ranging from extracting of the raw material, transportation, and fuel sources for heating kilns, contribute to the fact that “40% of global carbon dioxide emissions are linked to the construction industry.”
“Bacteria, which provide a precise environment to form in combination with a nutrient, nitrogen and calcium source allow for the formation of natural cement in ambient temperatures, taking less than five days to produce a pre-cast material.” bioMason has created a market viable model which involves licensing existing masonry manufacturers to begin growing. The inputs for biocements are inexpensive, globally abundant, and can be sourced from waste byproducts. Rather than being cast in fuel intensive furnaces, the material is grown in ambient temperatures. The water component used to deliver the cementation reagents is recycled in a closed-loop system and reused in the manufacturing process. Furthermore, since biological cements are formed in a different crystalline process than Portland based cements, “recent tests have been successful with seawater.”
You can find out more about the bioMason biobrick here.