Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Living Concrete Lays Foundation for 'New Discipline' in Sustainable Development

Science
This photograph shows green photosynthetic cyanobacteria growing and mineralizing in the sand-hydrogel framework. The living material has similar strength to cement-base mortar. College of Engineering and Applied Science at Colorado University Boulder / EurekAlert!

Cement is a remarkable building material; it's cheap, durable and readily available. However, its production is a leading source of carbon dioxide emissions, coughing up 2.8 gigatons of emissions every year, as Advanced Science News reported.


While researchers have sought alternative means of production that would make building materials more eco-friendly, they have been unable to recreate cement's durability. Until now. A team of researchers has created concrete that is alive and can reproduce and capture carbon, according to the The New York Times.

The research team from the University of Colorado Boulder created an entirely new material with minerals that are deposited from cyanobacteria. They published their process yesterday in the journal Matter. Cyanobacteria are common microbes that capture energy through photosynthesis. That process means the plants will absorb carbon dioxide, which is the opposite of the industry standard concrete, which spews massive quantities of greenhouse gasses, as The New York Times reported.

While regular concrete is an unfavorable environment for bacteria, this material has a process based around the bacteria, which enlists its creators to build the concrete and keeps them alive so they can make more later on. Since the process stems from cyanobacteria — the same class of bacteria responsible for a harmful algal bloom — it looks green, as The New York Times reported.

"It really does look like a Frankenstein material," said Wil Srubar, a structural engineer and the head of the research project, as The New York Times reported. However, the green color fades as the material dries.

The research team says their innovation paves the way for living buildings in the future that can heal their own cracks and purify the air, according to the Daily Mail.

"Microorganisms can be leveraged for multiple purposes in the design of [living building materials], including increasing the rate of manufacturing, imparting mechanical benefit, and sustaining biological function," said the authors in the study, as Advanced Science News reported.

This new concrete "represents a new and exciting class of low-carbon, designer construction materials," said Andrea Hamilton, a concrete expert at the University of Strathclyde, in Scotland, as The New York Times reported.

The project was funded by Darpa, the Department of Defense's research arm. Darpa wanted a fast process for creating a living concrete. The researchers started by putting cyanobacteria in a mixture of sand and nutrients. The bacteria did start to produce a calcium carbonate that cemented the sand particles together, but the process was very slow, according to The New York Times.

It's a lot like making rice crispy treats where you toughen the marshmallow by adding little bits of hard particles,' said Srubar, as the Daily Mail reported.

Srubar had the idea to add gelatin to the mixture as a way to strengthen the matrix being built by the cyanobacteria. The gelatin successfully added structure, and it teamed up with the bacteria to help the living concrete grow stronger and faster, as The New York Times reported.

"The first time we made a big structure using this system, we didn't know if it was going to work, scaling up from this little-bitty thing to this big brick," said Chelsea Heveran, a former postdoc with the group — now an engineer at Montana State University — and the lead author of the study to The New York Times. "We took it out of the mold and held it — it was a beautiful, bright green and said 'Darpa' on the side." (The mold featured the name of the project's funder.) "It was the first time we had the scale we were envisioning, and that was really exciting."

"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, as the Daily Mail reported. "We're just scratching the surface and laying the foundation of a new discipline. The sky is the limit."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Earth's atmosphere. NASA

By Jeremy Deaton

You may have heard about the hole in the ozone layer, which hovers over Antarctica. It has shrunk over time thanks to policies that curbed the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. In the nearly 40 years that NASA has kept track, it has never been smaller. That's the good news.

Read More Show Less
Garden interns learn plant and weed identification at the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Cheyenne River Youth Project / Facebook

By Stephanie Woodard

Many Americans are now experiencing an erratic food supply for the first time. Among COVID-19's disruptions are bare supermarket shelves and items available yesterday but nowhere to be found today. As you seek ways to replace them, you can look to Native gardens for ideas and inspiration.

Read More Show Less
Although considered safe overall, aloe vera does carry the risk of making some skin rashes worse. serezniy / Getty Images

By Kristeen Cherney

Skin inflammation, which includes swelling and redness, occurs as an immune system reaction. While redness and swelling can develop for a variety of reasons, rashes and burns are perhaps the most common symptoms. More severe skin inflammation can require medications, but sometimes mild rashes may be aided with home remedies like aloe vera.

Read More Show Less
There are plenty of things you can do every day to help reduce greenhouse gases and your carbon footprint to make a less harmful impact on the environment. ipopba / Getty Images

By Katie Lambert and Sarah Gleim

The United Nations suggests that climate change is not just the defining issue of our time, but we are also at a defining moment in history. Weather patterns are changing and will threaten food production, and sea levels are rising and could cause catastrophic flooding across the globe. Countries must make drastic actions to avoid a future with irreversible damage to major ecosystems and planetary climate.

Read More Show Less
Petri Oeschger / Moment / Getty Images

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

Sleep is one of the pillars of optimal health.

Read More Show Less

Junjira Konsang / Pixabay

By Matt Casale

For many Americans across the country, staying home to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) means adapting to long-term telework for the first time. We're doing a lot more video conferencing and working out all the kinks that come along with it.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Looking south from New York City's Central Park. Ajay Suresh / Wikipedia / CC BY 4.0

By Richard leBrasseur

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered humans' relationship with natural landscapes in ways that may be long-lasting. One of its most direct effects on people's daily lives is reduced access to public parks.

Read More Show Less