A group of researchers and students are using living organisms that exist all around us to create one of the most common building materials – in a more sustainable way.
“When we look around us at cement and concrete, we can easily forget that cement is the second most used material on earth after water. “The impact is immense,” stated Chelsea Heveran, an assistant professor from Montana State University.
Cement production today requires a lot more energy and fossil fuels than it does now.
According to a Chatham House report, cement production accounts for about 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions each year.
Heveran stated that the impact of cement production is so severe that it makes us wonder if there are other sustainable building materials.
Heveran and other students at the Center for Biofilm Engineering are working to solve this problem.
Erika Espinsoa–Ortiz, research assistant at the Center for Biofilm Engineering, stated that you can see different fungi in different media. “So, what we are trying to do is find the best conditions to grow this fungus.
Cups can contain different fungi, which live in different environments. To find out what works best, Biomineralization is a process that occurs at room temperature.
“Biomineralization is common in nature. Heveran said that biomineralization is a common phenomenon in nature. Heveran explained that shells can be thought of, bones can be thought about, and some geological formations can also be considered.
To test the strength, they take the fungi — or bacteria — add minerals, mix it, and pour it into wood chips to see how they hold together.
This can help solve problems like soil stabilization, serslin, or sealing cracks in oil and gas pipelines to prevent contamination. Adrienne Phillips calls this, “Using the power and biology of biology to solve industrial problems.”
“The advantage of using this bacterium is that they are very small. On the order of 2 microns, so much thinner than even a human hair,” said Adrienne Phillips, an associate professor at Montana State University.
BioSqueeze, a small company, has used the lab’s research to fill more than 50 oil-and gas wells.
Peter May, an environmental scientist, said that even though the idea is based on natural, age-old processes, there are still challenges.
“However, that is one of the most important things: scaling up. And you know that bacteria grow very quickly, fungi grow quite quickly,” said May, an assistant research professor at the University of Maryland. You can’t scale it up in the real world to make it useful if there isn’t enough of this material.