Bioreactor bricks: The building blocks of ecological architecture?

By Ellen Daniel

According to the International Energy Agency, the building construction industry is responsible for 36% of global energy consumption, highlighting the urgent need for ecological architecture.

However, researchers have found a way of incorporating eco-friendly technologies into the fabric of buildings themselves.

Using modular bioreactor bricks containing microorganisms that use sunlight, water or air to produce heat, electricity and proteins, researchers hope that the buildings of the future will be able to convert waste into green energy.

This is part of an EU-funded project called Living Architecture, which is working to develop a new type of fuel cell, which uses domestic waste to generate power.

How bioreactor bricks can power buildings

The bioreactor bricks contain a microbial fuel cell that converts chemical energy produced by metabolising microorganisms into electricity, which can then be used within the building.

The microorganisms come from waste water from the buildings to generate the chemical energy, but researchers say that the project could be adapted to use different sources, such as grey water, visible light, temperature and nutrients.

It is therefore hoped that the project could be incorporated into a number of settings such as homes, offices, schools, hospitals and outdoor spaces.

Ecological architecture and the mission to reduce building emissions

The project is part of a wider effort to utilise microbes in buildings and investigate ways to reduce the impact of buildings on the environment.

Project coordinator Rachel Armstrong, Professor of Experimental Architecture from Newcastle University, said:

“The Living Architecture project is going to change the way that we live through our homes, changing the domestic environment so it becomes nature space. The presence of the building actually becomes something regenerative in the landscape and not something that necessarily harms the environment.”

The eventual aim of the €3.2m project is to build prototypes of houses open to the public to demonstrate the “next level of urban sustainability” for homes and cities.

Armstrong said:

“The ambition is to develop a transferrable ecological architecture practice. My eyes are firmly on the architects of the future to help empower them and develop the kinds of skills that will help us discover what ecological architecture should be.”

Read more: Flat-pack generator turns human waste into biogas.