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Dupe creates "biological concrete" from sand, bacteria and urine

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February 12, 2014

Designer Peter Trimble has built a machine that creates biostone furniture

Designer Peter Trimble has built a machine that creates biostone furniture

Image Gallery (7 images)

With energy production and raw material shortages becoming increasingly pertinent issues around the world, designer Peter Trimble has demonstrated a radical method of manufacture that addresses both issues. Dupe is a portable machine that uses a mixture of sand, bacteria and urine to create a material called biostone. The machine is a proof-of-concept design only and is currently set up to create a small stool, but the method can be adapted to create just about anything.

Trimble's work was part of an open brief while studying at the Edinburgh College of Art. He decided to look at the sustainability of material production and found that cement production was the most environmentally damaging. Not only is the biostone he subsequently produced environmentally-friendly, but it could be easily made as bricks for building housing in developing countries or remote places.

"Currently, materials use 'heat, beat and treat' methods of production, carving things down from the top with 96 percent waste and only 4 percent product," says Trimble. "The 96 percent can be accounted for through the mining of raw materials, the burning of fossil fuels in manufacture and transportation at each stage of the products life."

The bascillus pasterurii bacteria solution is pumped into the sand-filled mold and left to...

The procedure for creating biostone involves filling a mold of the final required shape with sand before pumping a bacteria solution of bascillus pasterurii (which has been grown in a nutrient broth) into the mold and leaving the mixture to establish itself overnight. A solution of calcium chloride, urea and nutrient broth is then pumped into the mold. The bacteria uses the urea as energy to absorb the calcium chloride and convert it into calcium carbonate, a cement-like mixture that binds the sand together within the mold.

"The development process was difficult, particularly getting the recipe for the chemicals correct," explains Trimble to Gizmag. "I had lots of problems with PH levels. At the beginning the solution would kill the bacteria or cause the calcite to precipitate too quickly. I found that pumping the solution upwards (against gravity) through the sand produced more consistent results as it avoided preferential flow. Other problems where fundamental things like the molds leaking."

According to Trimble, the method of "microbial manufacture" used by Dupe explores the possibility of replacing energy-intensive methods of production with more efficient, biological processes. Though not aiming to provide any definitive answers, he hopes the project will encourage discussion about how industrial manufacturing can be made more sustainable.

"The process forms mineral composites at biological temperatures," says Trimble. "The biomaterial is structurally comparable to concrete, yet the production of the biomaterial produces no greenhouse gases. Concrete is responsible for 5 percent of the world's man-made CO2 emissions. The biomaterial produced by this process is a stepping stone in the right direction for the reduction of these carbon emissions."

Dupe is by no means the first time urine has been used for good. French design group Faltazi created L'Uritonnoir, a composting urinal that helps to turn a hay bales into fertilizer, and scientists at Bristol Robotics Laboratory created a urine-powered fuel-cell for mobile phones.

The video below shows the production process.

Source: Peter Trimble

About the Author
Stu Robarts Stu is a tech writer based in Liverpool, UK. He has previously worked on global digital estate management at Amaze and headed up digital strategy for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). He likes cups of tea, bacon sandwiches and RSS feeds.   All articles by Stu Robarts
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23 Comments

In Northern Ireland, Castles were constructed with stones mortared together from beach sand, slaked lime and blood. They are still standing after 700+ years in very harsh salt water environment. Egg Tempre has been used as a visual art's medium for several hundred years by many fine artist. Many binding agents can bee found in nature to produce near permanent structures. Termite mounds can withstand both extreme heat and wind with nothing more then secretions.

Gregory Leeds
12th February, 2014 @ 09:53 am PST

That does not sound normal; making stools out of urine.

Neil Farbstein
12th February, 2014 @ 11:12 am PST

Blood! I guess that must have been "donated" by workers who collapsed, or the old and infirm. :o) Easier, and friendlier, to give them lots of beer to drink, and harvest the processed excretions. Also, slaked lime is hardly benign, so this is probably an improvement. Calcium carbonate is just chalk, though, so I wonder what binds this stuff, too; he handled the finished block very gently. The microbial action must bind it somehow.

And the termites, yes, as well as various birds, bees, and amphibians. I love that the bio-mimicry movement has gotten so large. Very exciting.

Harriet Russell
12th February, 2014 @ 12:27 pm PST

I first saw this idea in a ted talk by Magnus Larsson, he wanted to adapt this process to build a 'great wall' across Africa to halt Sahara desert spread.

while not a new idea, i like the bricks, and would like to see some tested to destruction under a compression strength testing system. i especially like the shape, i can see it being used for bricking building walls, both in vertical and horizontal alignment.

Chizzy
12th February, 2014 @ 03:13 pm PST

Sounds like the "good old days" of collecting urine door-to-door fo the tanning industry!

I suppose it is a bit better than the needy visiting blood banks and selling a pint or two for money.

Have a few beers and sell your pint or three and help build something!

The Skud
12th February, 2014 @ 04:14 pm PST

Harriet it states calcium chloride not calcium carbonate in the article.

Stephen Colbourne
12th February, 2014 @ 07:33 pm PST

Cutting edge is fine and dandy at the tip, but here is something for those who delve into first principals deep in the root. I like this because it addresses the root of things and concrete is a root thing.

Threesixty
12th February, 2014 @ 11:51 pm PST

I wonder what the chances are of this replacing current cement production technology. As things are, cement production is a major producer of the greenhouse gas, CO2.

Unfortunately, it would take a lot of fossil fuel energy, with consequent CO2 production, to convert to any radically new technology, such as this, so it is not all good news.

Mel Tisdale
13th February, 2014 @ 03:39 am PST

Three years ago I published a book called A SEVEN THOUSAND YEAR HISTORY OF CONCRETE*. One section of the book dealt with the use of concrete on the Moon. Obviously there is plenty of sand on the Moon and now they have a perfectly good use for the urine of the 'lunatics' who settle there.

*Quantuck Lane/ WWNorton Press

Reese Palley
13th February, 2014 @ 09:20 am PST

When EAWAG, the leading Swiss water research institute near Zurich got a new building they installed toilets which separate urine from solids. The technology exists and is feasible at least for larger buildings which have enough flow to create a waste stream.

moreover
13th February, 2014 @ 09:22 am PST

While it might sound fun to down a few pints and head to the can, that does not commercialize well. Perhaps partnering with dairy farms or feedlots would provide more substantial volume and take care of some of the stench.

Bruce H. Anderson
13th February, 2014 @ 09:41 am PST

Wow people are just Silly. The blood for the mortar in the old castles came from animals who get slaughtered and drained as daily food production waste not want not. Millions of gallons of blood just goes down the drain every day currently.

Mel Tisdale It would cost very little to switch or in corporate this tech as the chemicals needed are cheap and currently produced on industrial scales so the market just grows jobs are created or transfered from one industry to the next and all is fine with the world.

JoejustJoe
13th February, 2014 @ 09:42 am PST

"A solution of calcium chloride, urea and nutrient broth is then pumped into the mold."

Urea, nut urine. Urine has urea in it, along with a lot of other chemicals and compounds.

Gregg Eshelman
13th February, 2014 @ 05:46 pm PST

@ Mel Tisdale

If increasing levels of C02 is causing the earth to warm why is 2013 the year with the highest directly measured atmospheric C02 levels not the warmest on record?

Slowburn
14th February, 2014 @ 12:52 am PST

The hottest year on record is scheduled for this year. 2013 is "only" tied for seventh-hottest, since 1880. http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-2013-nasa-2013-7th-hottest-year-20140121,0,2770402.story#axzz2tKdDJYiT

Climate change is not linear. Warmer temperatures create new and sometimes unforeseen climactic responses, such as the new oceanic heat sink in the Pacific that was recently featured here in Gizmag. So, gross temperature changes over a short time, and a decade or two is a very short time when it comes to climate, will not always be linear, except in the longer trends, where this global rise is incontrovertible.

Besides, raw temperature is only one of many indicators pointing toward an impending catastrophic climate change. The one that should be freaking you out right now is ocean acidification. If ocean water pH swings much further than it already has, any hope that we'll ever have of drawing down our CO2 load to a sustainable level will be gone, as will most of the human race when there's no more food to eat.

If you're seriously interested in the hard scientific facts about our changing climate, from a deep historical perspective and to many many decimal points, along with some excellent lay-level explanation about how they all interact with positive and negative feedback loops, there's no better source than Dr. William H. Calvin's 2008 book, "Global Fever." But, if the facts don't matter to you, there's no point.

From Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

SLARTIBARTFAST: Science has achieved some wonderful things, I know, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day.

ARTHUR DENT: And are you?

SLARTIBARTFAST: No. That's where it all falls down, of course.

ARTHUR DENT: Pity, it sounded like rather a good lifestyle otherwise.

ClassicPlastic
14th February, 2014 @ 01:17 pm PST

@ ClassicPlastic

The earth has been warming since the middle of the 1600s and the peak of the Little Ice Age why should we panic about it now.

To quote you, "Climate change is not linear. Warmer temperatures create new and sometimes unforeseen climactic responses, such as the new oceanic heat sink in the Pacific that was recently featured here in Gizmag." but we must panic based on a liner model of global warming?

The history of doom and gloom predictions have a long and appalling history of making the predictor rich while the predictions have universally failed to be accurate.

Slowburn
16th February, 2014 @ 10:51 pm PST

You can make real cement from power-plant flue-gas.

See:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cement-from-carbon-dioxide/

But a better solution would not burn carbon to make steam to convert heat to electricity. Use Thorium for that until we get useful Boron-Proton reactors with MHD conversion.

Richard Green
17th February, 2014 @ 10:03 am PST

Using microbes to form calcium carbonate (i.e. shell) in sand to form bricks isn't new. It seems Dupe is more elaborate than say just adding water and calcium carbonate producing organisms to dirt. I guess people just like the idea of utilizing their piss.

Brad Arnold
18th February, 2014 @ 12:50 am PST

Greenland is called Greenland because when the Vikings discovered it, it was green, a bit like Ireland. It was not called Whiteland. People skated on the Thames a couple of centuries ago.

The climate on earth has been changing back and forth between warm and cool since it was formed. Why is it that today we are blessed with millions of King Canutes? It is how it is. Find something to worry about that's worth the effort.

Peejay
18th February, 2014 @ 09:42 am PST

No Peejay, you are guessing. While Greenland has had green coasts in the south for a while, there is no evidence that it was completely green, so your point is invalid. Furthermore, we know that, while the climate obviously changes on its own, it is possible to affect the factors that affect the climate. One of these factors is the level of carbon dioxide in the air. By our emissions we are therefore heating up the thin layer that we live on, disrupting climate cycles at an unprecedented rate (if you disregard meteor impact or massive volcanism, as you should). Reports of skating on the Thames are also completely irrelevant as well.

Great article, by the way.

muchado
19th February, 2014 @ 05:59 pm PST

@slowburn By quoting such skewed pseudofacts you have revealed that you are not really interested in debate. Everything that you mention has been addressed by www.skepticalscience.com. If you still have a point after reading that, then you can talk. Yes, I know that the curator is not a climate scientist, but he quotes them and peer-reviewed papers.

muchado
19th February, 2014 @ 06:11 pm PST

The strength reported on DeZeen is 2,400psi (or 16.6MPa - no details on how this was measured). Not sure why they are using US units. An ordinary low grade structural concrete would have a cylinder strength of 4,000psi. Could be useful in some domestic uses, but not really as a direct replacement for concrete for high-rises unless he can get the strength up. I wonder what the density is.

muchado
20th February, 2014 @ 07:11 am PST

This was a very interesting article, and reading the responses has been equally interesting. FYI, One of the traditional sources for slaked lime is baked (calcined) bone. Calcined pig bone was used for the plaster of the Alhambra, in Spain. Urine was used traditionally as a hardening agent in adobe plasters in Mexico.

As noted urine was also used by the tanning industry in Europe, and it was also used as a bleach.

On the use of blood in building, the red barns of the eastern USA were originally painted red by blending cow blood with cow milk to make a very durable paint.

Jeffrey Brooks
11th March, 2014 @ 06:53 pm PDT
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