The power of living architecture
Today’s urban architecture lacks environmentally friendly building materials. Popular materials such as concrete, stone and wood require vast amounts of energy to produce, and often require the complete eradication of natural ecosystems at construction sites. The concrete industry alone creates up to 5% of worldwide man-made carbon dioxide emissions and we are in dire need for a cheaper, sustainable and photosynthetic solution (The Cement Sustainability Initiative, 2002).
Our biodesign project aims to develop a biological material, which reduces pollution, increases biodiversity and improves the urban aesthetic. Additionally, we wish to explore the solar energy harvesting potential of living materials. On the long run, organic building materials would be economically cheaper if they can be grown without a high water and energy cost (Ragheb et al., 2016). Additionally, investing in living materials could improve life quality within crowded cities. Green environments have show benefits for physical and mental health by improving air quality and reducing stress (Lee et al., 2015).
Building with mycelium and cyanobacteria
We began by researching biomaterials with functional properties. We investigated the potential of materials such as biopolymers, hydrogels, mycelium, cyanobacteria and biofilm for harvesting energy and supporting life. We settled with the fungal root mycelium, as it can be grown into any desired shape, is completely renewable, highly enduring, and fire and water resistant when dried. Furthermore, a research team at the UFZ—Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Germany, demonstrated how mycelium hyphae can support bacterial growth and survival (Worrich et al., 2016). Mycelium was shown to transfer nutrients and water to dormant bacteria, which made them germinate and grow. Mycelium could therefore act as a useful material for supporting living micro-ecosystems in urban environments.
Additionally, photosynthetic prokaryotes grown on mycelium platforms could be used to create ecologically friendly building and landscapes. Cyanobacteria efficiently convert sunlight into energy, and could act as low cost, cellular factories for producing biofuels, high value nutrients, and bioelectricity (Sarma et al., 2016). Photosynthetic bacteria such as cyanobacteria could be grown on cheaply produced 3D mycelium platforms, and arranged into electrogenic cells for light capture.
(Post by Laura Turpeinen)
Lee, A. C. K., Jordan, H. C., & Horsley, J. (2015). Value of urban green spaces in promoting healthy living and wellbeing: prospects for planning. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, 8, 131–137. http://doi.org/10.2147/RMHP.S61654
Ragheb, A., El-Shimy, H. and Ragheb, G. (2016). Green Architecture: A Concept of Sustainability. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 216, pp.778-787.
Sarma, M., Kaushik, S. and Goswami, P. (2016). Cyanobacteria: A metabolic power house for harvesting solar energy to produce bio-electricity and biofuels. Biomass and Bioenergy, 90, pp.187-201.
Worrich, A., Stryhanyuk, H., Musat, N., König, S., Banitz, T., Centler, F., Frank, K., Thullner, M., Harms, H., Richnow, H., Miltner, A., Kästner, M. and Wick, L. (2017). Mycelium-mediated transfer of water and nutrients stimulates bacterial activity in dry and oligotrophic environments. Nature Communications, 8, p.15472.