Apr 27, 2020

Huffpost: Construction Causes Major Pollution. Here’s How We Can Build Better.

The industry is four times more polluting than air travel. Making it more sustainable is critical to protecting our health and the climate.

By Zoë Schlanger

Buildings of the future will be grown on-site, says Wil Srubar. They’ll be made from hemp, or algae or specially engineered wood — or bacteria that can photosynthesize, like the cyanobacteria mortar he and his research team recently grew between a lattice of sand and water-based gel.
 
“In my future world, we don’t burn limestone to make cement, and we don’t melt sand to make glass,” he says. Instead, essential building materials might be grown from bacteria that glow (bioluminescence) or from engineered lichen, so that walls are infused with the organism’s remarkable properties. Imagine a house that could filter carbon dioxide from the air or change color if harmful gases are present.
 
This may sound fanciful, but the work is already underway. Srubar, an assistant professor of architectural engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, runs the Living Materials Laboratory, where he and his colleagues fiddle with living bacteria to create building materials that grow themselves.
 
Srubar grew up outside of Houston, on a cotton farm and cattle ranch, “where things were very much alive.” Buildings, in contrast, were “so static and nonliving,” he says. The skyline of Houston inspired him to become a structural engineer, but he wanted to do it differently. “Why can’t we bring building materials to life?” he says.
 

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