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Materials

80: Bio-bricks made without kilns

Problem:

Traditional brick-making requires blasting clay in kilns at 2,000 degrees for several days, thereby releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere About 8 % of all global carbon emissions come from brick manufacturing, according to estimates from the EPA.

Solution:

Carbon-dioxide-free bricks.

In Durham, North Carolina, since 2012, a team led by Ginger K. Dosier and her husband Michael of bioMason have developed a building brick whereby sand placed in molds is injected with bacteria, which are then fed calcium ions in water.

The ions create a calcium carbonate shell with the bacteria’s cell walls, causing the particles to stick together. A brick grows in three to five days.

Dosier studied architecture at Auburn University and as a graduate student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. While working for an architectural firm in 2005, she was tasked with looking into green alternatives for building materials. She later moved to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park to teach architecture at North Carolina State University.

In 2009, Dosier, whose mother was an engineer and father worked for NASA’s shuttle program, started to investigate potential ways to make masonry more eco-friendly. She looked at how coral was able to make these incredible structural formations that could withstand water and erosion and began really researching how it was able to grow.

She took her research to scientists in Research Triangle Park and beyond to see if the process could be replicated to create bricks. Their opinions were nearly unanimous: it could be done, it just had not been attempted before, at least not on a large scale. bioMASON’s bricks can be customized to glow in the dark, absorb pollution, or change color when wet.

In 2016 bioMason collaborated with Ecovative Design of Green Island, New York to produce all-grown furniture. While the table top was a bioMason brick, the legs had been grown using mushroom technology.

After being left to grow in a former in a dark place for about five days during which time the fungal mycelial network binds the mixture, the resulting light robust organic compostable material can be used within many products, including building materials, thermal insulation panels and protective packaging.

In 2017, bioMason moved into a new facility in Research Triangle Park giving it a capacity to grow 5,000 bricks every two days. Dosier has signed licensing agreements with two U.S.-based manufacturers of construction materials.

bioMason have also developed kits, compositions, tools and methods for biologically cemented structures, used in the farming of bivalves, such as oysters and clams, and also other marine and fresh water invertebrates such as sponges, and other commercially worthwhile sessile organisms.

These kits can also be used for erosion control of beaches and underwater surfaces, for the formation of foundations such as footings for pier supports, marine walls and other desirable structures.

bioMason have also developed cyclic industrial process to form biocement. This involves decomposing calcium carbonate into calcium oxide and carbon dioxide at an elevated temperature, reacting calcium oxide with ammonium chloride to form calcium chloride, water, and ammonia gas; and reacting ammonia gas and carbon dioxide at high pressure to form urea and water, which are then utilized to form biocement.

In 2019, the USAF’s think tank Blue Horizons collaborated with bioMason on Project Medusa to grow military-grade runways. Project Medusa has undergone several tests, including a 2,500 ft² (232 m²) structural prototype in Durham, North Carolina.

A follow-on effort began between bioMason, AFRL, and DARPA to mature the technology and build up different soil samples to see how well the technology functions across different areas of responsibility.

India

In India, Himanshu Verma of the Navrattan Group, Mumbai, has developed a concrete called Navrattan Crete that uses a proprietary binder derived from a species of algae and a guarded extraction process which ultimately transforms an enzyme of the algae into a highly concentrated elastic polymeric powder. Individual polymer chains are linked together by covalent bonding to form one single molecule with all of the aggregates.

In addition, a thin plastic film cross links and permeates the entire mixture adding flexibility. The cement has a higher tensile strength than Portland cement. Its low coefficient of expansion enables it to work efficiently in all weather conditions. The mixture prepared is hydrophobic, and is therefore resistant to water, acids, corrosion etc.
Navrattan Crete also reduces CO₂ emission as its manufacturing process does not require breaking down of limestone or the use of large energy intensive kilns, which is a major issue with the conventional cement industry. In 2016, Navrattan built two manufacturing units in the Punjabi cities of Rajpura and Bathinda with the total production capacity of over 44,000 tons (0.4 million tonnes) per annum each. (navrattancement.com)

What you can do: Tell local builders about these materials and if you are having a building constructed insist that eco-friendly building materials are used.

Discover Solution 81: zero-emission pilotless shipping

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