Science

Smart bricks would enable walls capable of generating electricity, clean water and oxygen

Researchers are developing "smart bricks" that will produce power, water and other resources thanks to microbial fuel cells
Researchers are developing "smart bricks" that will produce power, water and other resources thanks to microbial fuel cells
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Researchers are developing "smart bricks" that will produce power, water and other resources thanks to microbial fuel cells
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Researchers are developing "smart bricks" that will produce power, water and other resources thanks to microbial fuel cells

A lot of things are becoming "smart" these days, but bricks might not be something you'd expect to be added to the list. On the way to buildings that act like "large-scale living organisms," scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are developing smart bricks that would make use of microbes to recycle wastewater, generate electricity and produce oxygen.

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs), which will be embedded in the bricks to give them their "smart" capabilities, have proven handy in the past, with researchers demonstrating how they can be used to generate electricity from human urine, dead flies or just plain old mud.

"Microbial fuel cells are energy transducers that exploit the metabolic activity of the constituent microbes to break down organic waste and generate electricity," says Ioannis Ieropoulos, professor at UWE Bristol's Robotics Laboratory. "This is a novel application for MFC modules to be made into actuating building blocks as part of wall structures. This will allow us to explore the possibility of treating household waste, generating useful levels of electricity, and have 'active programmable' walls within our living environments."

The researchers say the "living engines" of these walls will be able to sense the environment both outside and inside the building – including its human occupants – and react accordingly. Depending on how they're "programmed," these bioreactor walls will be able to take in inputs such as grey water, carbon dioxide, sunlight, algae, bacteria and nutrients, and in turn produce resources like "polished" water, oxygen, electricity, heat, biodegradable detergents, biomass and biofluorescence.

"The technologies we are developing aim to transform the places where we live and work enabling us to co-live with the building," says Andrew Adamatzky, the professor leading the UWE Bristol team. "Each smart brick is an electrical analogous computer. A building made of such bricks will be a massive-parallel computing processor."

With all these resources literally coming out of the walls, smart bricks are just one part of Living Architecture (LIAR), an ongoing project by institutions from across the UK and Europe which aims to tackle global sustainability issues.

Source: UWE Bristol

5 comments
Digitalclips
It makes sense however considering we haven't even started making roofs that are solar cells yet I expect anything like this is a ways off. I live in Florida and they still, in 2016, build house roofs with fake tiles or tar paper and shingles! The Governor won't even pass laws aimed at allowing self generated power back into the grid to offset charged from Florida Power and Light. I wonder why?
glorybe2
These new technologies sound wonderful but I have to wonder why if we can do such advanced things why do we have any challenges at all sheltering the poor or homeless. If these new technologies raise the cost of housing it may make things a lot worse for a majority of people.
Kpar
Digital Clips, it's been tried in California, and it hasn't worked out as planned. Too much, too soon? Maybe, or maybe the politicians overpromised (as usual). As to this article, what is the definition of "polished water"? Is it shiny?
BrianK56
Alternative energy is in full go mode. At this point I don't believe anyone can stop the process. It doesn't rely on government funding anymore, private companies are naturally moving forward looking for the best solutions and it appears that they are finding them.The next few years are going to be interesting to watch.
Lawnmowerman
This seems like a great idea but it is hard to tell from the article what this actually is. Nothing is said about flow streams or economics. Also, brick is generally a high end siding, rather than a building material. Which side does the insulation go on? A lot is left TBD.
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