Simply Scientific: Living cement

Every couple of kilometers, there lies huge concrete monoliths that are argued to screw up nature, also known as cities.

The cement industry alone is said to contribute to five percent of global CO2 emissions. But, what if I told you that a new “living” construction material could be the future of architecture?

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, created a new form of concrete that uses bacteria to grow––and even heal itself.

The bricks created by Dr. Wil Srubar and his team are composed of sand particles bound together by natural glue. The process is very similar to the formation of seashells. The bacteria that thrives on CO2 produces tiny limestones that act as glue to bind the sand particles together. This process is called biomineralization.

Some may think the bricks would be gooey or soft––and they are at first––but a monitored and controlled dehydration process makes the organic concrete completely solid. Once solidified, the cells shut down and stop the production process, so your house won’t become a skyscraper within weeks. However, in a controlled environment, the cells could be woken up and temporarily keep growing. Think of all the benefits and advantages this could bring to repairing buildings!

In an interview with CBC, Srubar said the bricks take less than a day to grow. On top of that, his team experimented with different methods and came to realize that when divided, the two new half-bricks grow individually to become two fully grown blocks.

Since the bacterias live off CO2, this new method is argued to be sustainable and environmentally-friendly. This is exactly where Srubar was taking his research, he said on CBC Radio’s show, Quirks & Quarks. According to him, the next generation of technology findings will be based on biology principles. He finished the interview by saying that his new finding could be an asset to human space exploration, arguing that it is easier to use growing blocks rather than carrying tons and tons of cement into space.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

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