Living Architecture is developing bioreactor bricks

A house that can recycle wastewater and generate electricity from sunlight without the need of things like solar panels. Sounds too good to be true? Yet it might be possible in the near future. The project Living Architecture (LIAR), co-ordinated by Newcastle University, is developing building blocks that can extract resources from sunlight, wastewater and air with the use of microorganisms.

Each block will contain a microbial fuel cell, which is filled with a variety of programmable synthetic microorganisms. Some will clean water; others reclaim phosphate, generate electricity or create new detergents. The living cells that will make up the wall will be able to sense their surroundings and respond to them through a series of digitally coordinated mechanisms. They can be robotically activated.

The bricks are able to fit together and create ‘bioreactor walls’, which could be incorporated in housing, public buildings and office spaces.

The researchers also aim to find ways to reclaim phosphate, a mineral which is becoming increasingly scarce, and create new detergents using the blocks. While this project deals with very small amounts of the substance, the insights that they will gather into how communities may collectively harvest reusable substances from their wastewater could potentially create an economy through re-distributing resources through councils, or other interested parties such as washing machine manufacturers.

The Living Architecture project is co-ordinated by Newcastle University and includes experts from the universities of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Trento, the Spanish National Research Council; LIQUIFER Systems Group and EXPLORA. It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Photos: LIAR (via