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Biomass Materials Technology

Bricks from bacteria? How bio-based is reshaping traditional building.

(photo courtesy of bioMASON, Inc

Our goal is to impact. Its a global goalWe wanted to do what had never been done before, to push the boundaries. And instead of being less bad, we wanted to completely redo itthe hard way.

An innovative North Carolina start-up is revolutionising the process of traditional brick clay production – manufacturing bricks without the use of heat or clay. Their new inspired process not only results in zero carbon emissions to create its bricks making it a truly green processing technology.

So how does it work and what are its goals?

The team atbioMASON develops their bricks and masonry from scratch without the need of any heat application. While existing brick production requires several days and the heating of clay in kilns surplus of 2,000 degrees releasing huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere bioMASON instead injects sand with micro-organisms to alternatively initiate this process. The revised process takes four days and, once completed, the resulting bricks are solid enough for use in applications ranging from the building of homes to large-scale construction projects.

Co-founded by Ginger Krieg Dosier (@sandlab)and her husband Michael, the motivation behindbioMASON was to find an alternative to the 8% of global carbon emissions presently attributed to the traditional process of brick production (Statistics: EPA).

Co-founder Dosier explains; Our goal is to impact. Its a global goalWe wanted to do what had never been done before, to push the boundaries. And instead of being less bad, we wanted to completely redo itthe hard way.

Committed to finding new and meaningful ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in brick production, Dosier saw an opportunity to improve on the brick process global impact;I really wanted to pursue a different approach to how materials were madeIt just didnt seem right for us to essentially extract material from the ground and then fire it with quite a large amount of fossil fuel just to make a hard product.

The inspiration behind the BioMason (@bioMASON) process?

As an architecture graduate, Dosier was working for an architectural firm in 2005 when she was tasked by her employers to explore green alternative composites for building materials. After prolonged investigation, Dosier was shocked when her searches turned up no matches to the brief. That kind of stuck with me for a little while, she explains.

Bricks from Bacteria 2 (Bio-Based World News)Consulting her own background knowledge, Dosier wondered if coral might hold the answer.

I looked at how coral was able to make these incredible structural formations that could withstand water and erosion and began really researching how it was able to grow.

Dosier approached scientists atResearch Triangle Park, North Carolina and asked if they believed such a process could be used to make bricks. It could be done, they said. Its just that no one had ever tried it before.

Convinced of its value, Dosier then assembled a team of employees that today includes biologists, architects, engineers, and experts in fermentation to create thebioMASON process.

The process in more detail:

Each brick begins its life withsand packed into rectangular moulds. The moulds are then inoculated with bacteria, which wrap themselves around the grains of sand. With each bacteria covered grain of sand acting as a nucleus, calcium carbonate crystals begin to form around it. An irrigation system feeds the bricks nutrient rich water over the course of several days to facilitate the process. The crystals grow larger and larger, filling gaps between the grains of sand.After three to five days, the bricks are ready for use. It is a technique similar to the processes that see the natural formation of the coral in our oceans.

Sound bizarre?

Dosier & thebioMASON team were mindful of the unchartered nature of their project during the research phase; I knocked on a lot of doors of scientists and microbiologists, Dosier recalls, and they were kind enough to not tell me I was crazy.

Commercial investors also saw the significant market potential. With sustainable building materials valued at a $36.1 billion industry, with an expected growth of 10% annually until 2020, (Statistics IBISWorld),bioMASON quickly raised $2.8 million in seed funding, grants and awards, mostly within the space of a whirlwind year in 2013. The funding included more than $500,000 from talent-led Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, whose notable jury is chaired by entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Meeting the market and finding customers is a daunting task, one that Dosier has so far accomplished with ease by showing potential customers the successful results of durability testing performed by third-party labs.

(photo courtesy of bioMASON, Inc.)These miraculous bricks have proved to be as durable as sandstone, able to be formed in a diverse range ofshapes and sizes.bioMASON already has licensing agreements with two US-based manufacturers of construction materials and is in talks with several more, including two European companies. Herbio-bricksare expected to be competitive with standard bricks by the time they hit the market in 2017.

Explaining the market-readiness for innovation in building materials technology, University of Oregon Architecture Professor, Ihab Elzeyadi, outlines; The design and construction industry is a big dinosaurIt moves very slowly. It doesnt embrace change very easily. (photo courtesy of bioMASON, Inc.)

Industry standards such as building codes and inspector approval must be met, while there are industry standards for traditional bricks and masonry, no such measures yet exist for biological products, making new processes such as BioMason brick production all the more important.

Patrick Rand, professor of architecture at N.C. State, who advised Dosier on this project explains that it required a rare combination of talents and areas of intelligenceShe sparked the whole process by imagining that biochemistry could do in days what geological processes have taken millennia to accomplish.

To read the full original article, courtesy of Inc. Magazine click here

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