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

A bald eagle chick inside a nest in Rutland, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
A bald eagle nest with eggs has been discovered in Cape Cod for the first time in 115 years, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Mass Wildlife), as Newsweek reported.
Read More Show Less
The office of Rover.com sits empty with employees working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 in Seattle, Washington. John Moore / Getty Images

The office may never look the same again. And the investment it will take to protect employees may force many companies to go completely remote. That's after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommendations for how workers can return to the office safely.

Read More Show Less
Frederic Edwin Church's The Icebergs reveal their danger as a crush vessel is in the foreground of an iceberg strewn sea, 1860. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

Scientists and art historians are studying art for signs of climate change and to better understand the ways Western culture's relationship to nature has been altered by it, according to the BBC.

Read More Show Less
Esben Østergaard, co-founder of Lifeline Robotics and Universal Robots, takes a swab in the World's First Automatic Swab Robot, developed with Thiusius Rajeeth Savarimuthu, professor at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at The University of Southern Denmark. The University of Southern Denmark

By Richard Connor

The University of Southern Denmark on Wednesday announced that its researchers have developed the world's first fully automatic robot capable of carrying out throat swabs for COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
Jackson Family Wines in California discovered that a huge amount of carbon pollution was caused by manufacturing wine bottles. Edsel Querini / Getty Images

Before you pour a glass of wine, feel the weight of the bottle in your hand. Would you notice if it were a few ounces lighter? Jackson Family Wines is betting that you won't.

Read More Show Less
The SpaceX crew capsule will launch out of Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX

After a minor setback, a new era in space travel and tourism is set to launch this weekend.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A former Federal Reserve board of governors member on Thursday called on her former colleagues to stop using Covid-19 relief funds to bail out the "dying" fossil fuel industry. Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

By Eoin Higgins

A former Federal Reserve board of governors member on Thursday called on her former colleagues to stop using Covid-19 relief funds to bail out the "dying" fossil fuel industry, calling the decision a threat to the planet's climate and a misguided use of taxpayer money.

Read More Show Less