Today in weird news we didn’t expect to read: Researchers in Colorado have produced Franken-concrete. It’s alive, and it may be the future of green buildings.
Concrete is, quite literally, all around us. It, or versions of it, has been used since 1300 B.C., meaning even a trip to Roman ruins is surrounded by concrete. In the last century, the technology of concrete hasn’t changed, but this new breakthrough has changed that.
The second most consumed material on earth, the production and use of concrete is responsible for 6% of global CO2 emissions—no small thing. Using bacteria, sand, and a hydrogel, the researchers found a way to produce a material that mimics the strength of concrete-based mortar.
How does it work? The power of the bacteria helps to “biomineralize the scaffold, so it actually is really green. It looks like a Frankenstein-type material,” said study senior author Wil Srubar, Ph.D. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to create–something that stays alive.”
And if you thought the idea of living concrete was weird enough, hold on tight: It’s about to get weirder. The material can reproduce, with a little help. If researchers split a brick of the material in half, the bacteria grows the pieces into two complete bricks. They found that this works to end up with eight bricks from the original one in three “generations.”
“What we’re really excited about is that this challenges the conventional ways in which we manufacture structural building materials,” said Srubar. “It really demonstrates the capability of exponential material manufacturing.”
This exponential material manufacturing, where we only have to actually invest the resources to create one result and get eight in return, would cut down on costs and any associated emissions. But the material isn’t ready for the building site yet.
The current iteration of the material requires extremely specific humidity and other environmental factors to remain viable and at its full strength. But it can provide the first point in a world of alternate, more sustainable, building materials.
“This is a material platform that sets the stage for brand-new exciting materials that can be engineered to interact and respond to their environments,” said Srubar.
Going forward, the team plans to work on exploring applications for their material, and chances are it will go better than the applications Dr. Frankenstein found for his monster.
If you’re looking to build a more sustainable home, there’s a lot of great new technology that can help make your home green. But there are also simple changes you can make that can make a big difference.