A brick that can build itself has been developed by US scientists which could eventually lead to the construction of more sustainable homes. 

Scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) have invented a self-replicating brick that pulls carbon dioxide from the air, rather than pumping it back out. 

The technology, detailed in the journal Matter, could eventually be harnessed to form a strategy to develop building materials that live and multiply, lowering the carbon footprint in the atmosphere. 

“Though this technology is at its beginning, looking forward, living building materials could be used to improve the efficiency and sustainability of building material production and could allow materials to sense and interact with their environment,” said Chelsea Heveran, lead author of the study and former postdoctoral research assistant at CU Boulder, now at Montana State University. 

How Does it Work?

The brick is made of a Synechococcus bacteria which, when combined with sand, gelatin and saltwater, photosynthesises and produces a compound called calcium carbonate, the main compound in cement.

The combination of sand and gelatin creates an environment where the bacteria can inhabit and multiply across. With a few tweaks, the calcium carbonate formed mineralises the gelatin which binds together the sand, creating a brick. 

And this brick’s materials can reproduce. When the researchers cut one of the bricks in half, each half was capable of growing into a new brick. They are durable too: roughly 9-14% of bacterial colonies in their materials were still alive after 30 days.

Construction: A New Future?

Because living building materials considerably reduce carbon emissions, the technique is a fascinating development for the future of homebuilding. And the researchers hope it could be used in areas worldwide where materials, energy and money are not always freely available for aspiring homeowners and homebuilders. 

There is still some way to go before the technology will be widely utilised within homebuilding, but it further evidences the incredible steps being made to improve the construction industry.

Earlier this year it was announced that the first 3D printed community will be developed in Mexico, enabling low-cost housing to be built, while the world’s first smart fungal building will be built in Bristol, with carbon-free fungi grown inside the building’s structure.

Developments like these are important because in the UK, affordable housing remains a pressing concern. House prices are close to being at an all-time high, and because of the steep deposits required, many choose to self build or custom build their own homes as a way of saving on costs. 

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