'Living' carbon-negative material could be used to protect buildings
'Protocell drivers' in a flask surrounded by carbon structures, in the Hylozoic Ground installation
Architects have been looking at ways to improve city buildings with living walls and living roofs that add some much needed greenery and help remove carbon from the atmosphere. Now researchers are looking at using a different sort of “living “ material created from protocells – bubbles of oil in an aqueous fluid sensitive to light or different chemicals – to create a coral-like skin that could be used to clad city buildings, build carbon-negative architecture and even "grow" reefs to stabilize the city of Venice.
Instead of using tiny, living marine polyps whose secretions form into calcium carbonate to create coral, the researchers from the University of Greenwich, in collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark, the University of Glasgow and University College London, are looking at using protocells – tiny droplets of fatty oil suspended in water, that have been engineered to behave like living microorganisms.
Besides moving through their liquid environment, oil-in-water protocells have been observed doing things such as avoiding each other’s trails, circling one another, and swarming. Their “behavior” is due to chemical reactions, and it is the ability of protocells made from oil droplets in water to allow soluble chemicals to be exchanged between the drops and their surrounding solution that the researchers are looking to take advantage of.
Under certain conditions, the oil droplets will develop a precipitate coating that they eventually slough off. At the University of Southern Denmark, researchers have been able to get protocells to capture carbon dioxide from the water, and convert it into a carbon-containing precipitate. Done on a large enough scale, it is hoped that coral-like building materials could be produced from a conglomeration of the cast-off skins. Because the CO2 would be taken from the air (via the water) and locked up in the limestone-like material, the process would be carbon-negative.
It might all sound like science fiction, but it is currently being publicly demonstrated, on a small scale. Hylozoic Ground, an installation created for the Canadian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale 2010, uses protocells to create carbon-containing solids from the CO2 exhaled by visitors. Created by Canadian architect Philip Beesley, the scientific aspect of the installation was designed by Dr. Rachel Armstrong of University College London.
Besides its potential to clad buildings in an ethical, green and sustainable way, it is also hoped that the technology could be used to stabilize the entire city of Venice, by creating a limestone “reef” beneath its foundations that would spread the structural weight-load of the city.
About the Author
An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.
All articles by Ben Coxworth
CO2 is not a hazardous gas.
This type of research is very dangerous; if someone will come up with a plant or organism that can live in even a more starved CO2 environment than we have now; then it could use up all the CO2 and kill all the other plants that need a higher level of CO2 to live like our food crops; and will ALL DIE TOGETHER with the idiots.
CO2 is 1 and 1/2 times heavier than normal air;
How does it get into the upper atmosphere to generate the \'greenhouse effect\' like Al Gore professes???
Answer: It doesn\'t; he lies;
bgroicahn: I agree with you. Also, the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is 0.0388%. This seems to be a particularly small proportion. It surely cannot cause the greenhouse effect. Man is blamed for causing CO2 to increase, but what about volcanoes? Are there any stats available? Is it true that Al Gore has a financial interest in global warming? Let\'s not forget all the scientists who get grants to \'study\' the effects.
You mean those scientists who are so greedy as to need funding for equipment, materials, and food on their tables? Both of you, PLEASE just forget Gore altogether. What he says on the topic of climate change (correct OR false) is not coming from a qualified expert, you know, someone who (for example) had a passion and worked hard to learn their field? I\'m sick to death of the greedy scientist stereotype: The truth is, an academic career in science (the one all those pesky peer-reviewed literature writing climatologists are pursuing) is definitely NOT going to make you rich, and those who choose that path know it. The obsession with assuming that all literature on the topic is so outrageously biased as to outright fabricate the evidence whereupon they base their points is absurd! For crying out loud, instead of listening to conspiracy theorists and media fanfare, ask the bloody scientists themselves! Try to get a chance to talk with a climatologist (especially ones specializing in climate change) and bloody ask them! Don\'t go on and on about how all the scientists are lying scumbags, for they are simply people with an interest, perhaps a passion in what they do (you try studying a subject you dislike/hate at university level for years and not get much pay for it) and they are not in it to screw you over. I guarantee that your points can, have, and will continue to be addressed by climatologists the world over, and if you\'re genuinely interested in hearing what they have to say, I\'m confident they\'re more than willing to share. Knowledge is not the privilege of the elite, but it IS the privilege of the non-lazy and if you wish to get to know the topic thoroughly, you must apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair, follow those long lists of citations that academics use and actually do at least a fraction of the work they have done and study the data and their conclusions yourself. They aren\'t allowed to get away with just anything you know, and data fabrication or falsification is tantamount to high treason in scientific circles.
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