The Future Of Building Materials Could Be Bacteria

Originally published on February 10, 2020 3:29 pm

Mix gelatin, sand and cyanobacteria and what do you get? A solid building material with a low carbon footprint.

Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder and Montana State University found that when this mixture came together, the bacteria ate up carbon dioxide and created structures strong enough for people to stand on.

That’s a big deal because there’s a significant amount of carbon dioxide that gets emitted just from making cement. And while concrete can be challenging to recycle, this bacteria-made material can easily be broken down and used again. 

Chelsea Heveran led that research. She said there’s room for other researchers to try different mixtures, but this is an exciting start to a new era of material science.

“For the first time, we’re starting to think that our building materials can do more for us. That if they are alive, they can mineralize for us on command. Or maybe they can sense something about their environment,” she said.

She said it can even repair itself under the right conditions. 

However, it could still take years or even decades for these bacteria buildings materialize.

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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