Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Of Bricks and Bacteria

On average, the kiln-drying process for one brick emits 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide. Every year, 1.23 trillion bricks are made around the world. The environmental pollution associated with this process totals more than that of all aviation pollution worldwide. Fire-kilned brick has been around for over 5000 years, making it one of the oldest - if not the oldest - manufactured building material in the world. Introduced to the world by the Romans, the technology surrounding brick has changed little over that span. However, as manufacturing and technology increases, the environmental impact of the material is being unearthed. The traditional method has never changed because there was no reason to change it. Now there is. And now you can grow a brick.

Ginger Krieg Dosier, 24 year-old architecture professor
with a passion for microbiology, and chemistry, and winner of the Build a Better Brick competition sponsored by Metropolis, has invented a brick manufacturing process that works sans heat. According to Bustler:
"Dosier's process replaces baking with simple mixing, and because it is low-tech (apart from the production of the bacterial activate), can be done onsite in localities without modern infrastructure. The process uses no heat at all: mixing sand and non-pathogenic bacteria (sporosar) and putting the mixture into molds. The bacteria induce calcite precipitation in the sand and yield bricks with sandstone-like properties."
The brick represents a twofold advantage over the traditional methods of kiln-firing. First, the environmental impact. By replacing the most environmentally damaging part of the manufacturing process - the firing - the process is rendered almost entirely natural. The brick relies on the active ingredients to produce chemical reactions to achieve the brick's hardness and strength. Second, again by replacing the firing process, the physical infrastructure required to manufacture the brick has been reduced. Without the need for large firing kilns, the process becomes much more suited to rural and developing areas where a manufacturing operation can be set up quickly, on site and local, and without permanent structures or facilities.

See the whole process of making a brick here at Metropolis.
As a type of unit masonry, the brick lends itself to small-scale and mass production. However, the idea of growing structural components is intriguing. Could the scale be increased, and entire building structures be grown organically from the ground up? Moreover, if the active ingredients were designed to not just activate, but multiply, could we see structures grown with the precision typically reserved for Mother Nature? Strength where required, and lightness where it is not. This would relate very well to the theories of Neri Oxman and iGem Synthetic Biology.

Seen on I09, Bustler, and Metropolis.

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