Building With Materials That Pull CO2 from Air

November 9, 2010

A report posted today on Yale Environment 360, states, “A new field, known as “ethical synthetic biology,” aims to combine chemistry, architecture, and climate science to construct buildings out of materials that extract CO2 from the atmosphere and convert the carbon into structural material.”

Regarding the specifics of synthetic biology, Science Daily wrote in a Nov. 5, 2010 press release, “The University of Greenwich’s School of Architecture & Construction is poised to use ethical synthetic biology to create ‘living’ materials that could be used to clad buildings and help combat the effects of climate change.

“Researchers from the University of Greenwich are collaborating with others at the University of Southern Denmark, University of Glasgow and University College London (UCL) to develop materials that could eventually produce water in desert environments or harvest sunlight to produce biofuels.

In collaboration with an architectural practice and a building materials’ manufacturer, the idea is to use protocells — bubbles of oil in an aqueous fluid sensitive to light or different chemicals — to fix carbon from the atmosphere or to create a coral-like skin, which could protect buildings.”

According to the article, Neil Spiller, head of Greenwich’s School of Architecture & Construction, believes such protocells could possibly be used  to create a limestone-like material that would petrify the pilings now supporting many of Venice’s buildings, slowing the city’s slide into the sea. Researchers at the University of Southern Denmark have succeeded in capturing carbon dioxide in solution and converting it into carbon-containing materials.

“We want to use ethical synthetic biology to create large-scale, real world applications for buildings,” said Spiller in the announcement.

The release reports: “Protocells made from oil droplets in water allow soluble chemicals to be exchanged between the drops and their surrounding solution.

“The Center for Fundamental Living Technology at the University of Southern Denmark has managed to get cells to capture carbon dioxide from solution and convert it into carbon-containing materials. Such cells could be used to fix carbon to create ways of building carbon-negative architecture.

“An installation displayed in the Canadian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale 2010, Hylozoic Ground, created by Canadian architect Philip Beesley, provides an example of how protocells may be used to create carbon-negative architectures. Protocells situated within the installation designed by Dr Rachel Armstrong, Teaching Fellow at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, recycle carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors into carbon-containing solids. Similar deposits could be used to stabilise the city’s foundations by growing an artificial limestone reef beneath it.


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Glenn Meyers

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.