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Smart bricks will extract energy from sunlight, waste water and air

Posted July 30, 2016

It is a very rare case when it is worth writing about a future project. However, now an international team of scientists are setting out to create what essentially will be living building blocks. These bricks will be able to extract resources from sunlight, waste water and air, and generate electricity and, therefore, are worth talking about even before any major achievement is reached.

Smart bricks will form a digestive system of the building. Image credit: Nino Barbieri via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.5

Smart bricks will form a digestive system of the building. Image credit: Nino Barbieri via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.5

This project, called LIAR (Living Architecture) is coordinated by Newcastle University and includes experts from institutions from around the world. The idea is to make such building material that would not only work as a structure of the building, but would also fulfil other tasks. Each of these bricks will have a microbial fuel cell, which can be robotically activated.

Microorganisms for these tasks will be selected to fulfil a certain task: to clean water, reclaim phosphate, generate electricity and create new detergents. Rachel Armstrong, co-ordinator of the project, explained: “The best way to describe what we’re trying to create is a ‘biomechanical cow’s stomach’. It contains different chambers, each processing organic waste for a different, but overall related, purpose – like a digestive system for your home or your office”.

The LIAR project should result in a completely new way of constructing building. These smart bricks would fit together to form ‘bioreactor walls’ that can become a structural part of housing, public buildings and office spaces. It would essentially transform the places we live and work in. One of the tasks scientists have in mind is reclaiming phosphate, since this mineral is becoming increasingly scarce. Therefore, these bricks would deal with waste water as well. Then, researchers say, it is worth thinking how communities can collectively harvest reusable substances from their wastewater and redistribute them to interested parties.

This is only the beginning of the project. It will probably take years of development and research till we see the final product. But the idea itself is already very interesting and should increase sustainability of our households significantly.


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