Growing bricks

Imagine not having to stoke up a kiln to fire (non-renewable) clay into a brick. Now imagine being able to grow a brick. From bacteria. This is the idea behind the bioMASON, a concept that, if successful could revolutionise the building industry. And this success seems to be more a case of ‘when’ than ‘if’.

We don’t use terms like revolution easily. So what’s so truly special about this rectangular biomass? The bricks ricks utilize three primary components: aggregate, biologics, and a feedstock of nutrients and minerals. Usable aggregates consist of particles ranging from dust to sand. The biologics are a safe, natural bacteria responsible for inducing cement formation. The feed stocks are globally abundant resources, but may also be extracted from industrial waste streams.

‘Normal’ bricks are strong, simple and cheap to make. They’re also light enough for manual labour and allow for quick, modular building. Research by the Carbon War Room shows that over a trillion bricks are produced worldwide, every year. Annually, this releases over 800,000,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Enter architect-slash-scientist Ginger Krieg Dosier. She became inspired by biomimicry – the idea that we can learn much from natural processes, and can improve our lives simply by intelligently copying them. The idea of “growing” a brick became an obsession. A particular fascination was seashells and coral, both of which are able to form strong biocements in ambient temperatures, while sourcing the necessary materials locally, without polluting their surrounding environment.

According to Dosier, the bioMASON brick means that  masonry products are grown in a matter of days using a natural biocement. The product enables closed-loop manufacturing systems that capture 100% of the valuable by-products to be used as a natural fertilizer and recover water to be re-used in the manufacturing process.

The inventor uses sand as a substrate for her bricks. Liquid cement is prepared, includes bacteria, a source of nitrogen, calcium and water. The mixture put on a sand bed in a mould. This is added to for five days, until a solid has formed. Once the source of nutrition run out, the bacteria die. What’s left is the brick, ready for use.

Dosier’s brain-child recently won a €500,000 prize for green business idea. We expect more heads will be turning very soon.

Watch the inventor talk about the brick here.