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

Dupe creates "biological concr...
Designer Peter Trimble has built a machine that creates biostone furniture
Designer Peter Trimble has built a machine that creates biostone furniture
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Designer Peter Trimble has built a machine that creates biostone furniture
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Designer Peter Trimble has built a machine that creates biostone furniture
Dupe uses from sand, bacteria and urine to create a cement-like material
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Dupe uses from sand, bacteria and urine to create a cement-like material
The process creates no greenhouse gasses
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The process creates no greenhouse gasses
The bacteria is grown in a nutrient solution
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The bacteria is grown in a nutrient solution
The bascillus pasterurii bacteria solution is pumped into the sand-filled mold and left to establish itself
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The bascillus pasterurii bacteria solution is pumped into the sand-filled mold and left to establish itself
A solution of calcium chloride, urea and nutrient broth is then pumped into the mold
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A solution of calcium chloride, urea and nutrient broth is then pumped into the mold
The bacteria absorbs the calcium chloride and produces calcium carbonate, creating a biological, cement-like mixture
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The bacteria absorbs the calcium chloride and produces calcium carbonate, creating a biological, cement-like mixture

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

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

MICROBIAL MANUFACTURE

23 comments
Gregory Leeds
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.
Neil Farbstein
That does not sound normal; making stools out of urine.
Harriet Russell
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.
Chizzy
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.
The Skud
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!
Stephen Colbourne
Harriet it states calcium chloride not calcium carbonate in the article.
Threesixty
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.
Mel Tisdale
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.
Reese Palley
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
moreover
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.