I’m willing to bet that, if you think of bricks at all, it’s related to the colour and pattern you want adorning your house or landscaping. Creating those bricks, however, requires a lot of resources. In trying to decrease the burden on the environment and natural resources, bioMASON has developed a technology using microorganisms to grow biocement™ based construction materials.
According to The Brick Industry Association, brick manufacturing is significantly more energy-efficient now than it once was: in the 1970s, a standard brick required 14,000 BTU of energy to mine. In 2009, the average embodied energy for U.S.-manufactured brick had fallen to 4,300 BTU per standard brick. While a huge improvement, bioMASON says: “Our BTU/unit number would be zero, as our technology utilizes microorganisms to grow the biocement™. In other words, our process does not use heat to harden the material.”
How can a brick be constructed without the aid of heat to bond and strengthen the material? It begins by not utilising either clay or heat; the construction of bioMASON was inspired by the natural construction of the coral reefs.
“I realised that, as with teeth, the building block [of coral] is calcium carbonate,” explains Ginger Dosier, founder and CEO of bioMASON. “This crystallises due to changes in the surrounding pH caused by microorganisms in the coral.”
So bioMASON bricks “involve microorganisms making calcium carbonate crystals around sand,” only at hyper-speed. More specifically, sand is placed into moulds and inoculated with Sporosarcina pasteurii bacteria, which are then fed with calcium ions suspended in water.
“The ions are attracted to the bacterial cell walls, creating a calcium carbonate shell which causes particles to stick to each other,” Dosier says. As the particles begin to stick together, the bricks grow and become more solidified. The brick growing process takes two to five days; the more conventional kiln-fired brick manufacturing process lasts three to five days.
Because they craft their own bricks, bioMASON has developed some interesting options. “We can make bricks that glow in the dark, bricks that absorb pollution, bricks that change colour when wet,” Dosier says. They’re also exploring how to create a just-add-water powder or syrup that could be shipped worldwide and grown on site.
Given that bioMASON bricks reportedly offer the same structural strength and integrity as standard bricks, would you consider using them if you were building a new home?