A startup is using bacteria to produce an economically viable, biological-based alternative to traditional clay brick.
Spotted: Concrete is one of the most widely-used substances on the planet. It is also one of the most polluting. Cement, the key ingredient in concrete, accounts for around eight percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Now, North Carolina-based bioMason has hit on a way to reduce the carbon emissions from traditional clay bricks. They use bacteria to grow bricks, eliminating the firing process, and saving a tremendous amount of energy.
Ginger Dosier, the founder of bioMason, hit on the process while studying the formation of coral reefs. Dosier realised that, like concrete, coral reefs are composed largely of calcium carbonate. In nature, microorganisms in the coral cause changes in pH which allows the calcium carbonate to crystalise. BioMason developed a process in which sand is placed into moulds, and inoculated with Sporosarcina pasteurii bacteria. The bacteria is then fed with calcium ions suspended in water. The ions are attracted to the cell walls of the bacteria, causing calcium carbonate particles to stick to each other. Over two to five days, enough particles are attached to create a brick. This compares with the three to five days it takes to make a kiln-fired version.
The bioMason pilot plant can produce around 500 bricks a week, bricks that can glow in the dark, that can absorb pollution and bricks that change colour when wet. The next step is allowing customers to grow bricks on site. They are also developing a powder or syrup growing medium that can be shipped around the world and reconstituted with water.
We have previously seen innovations aimed at reducing carbon emissions. These include plastic made from bio-waste and a solar powered yacht. With the bacteria-grown brick bioMason hope to revolutionise the building and construction industry.