A building constructed of bones and eggshells might sound like something out of a Tim Burton film or figment of Gaudí’s imagination, but they are in fact the subject of academic research in a bid to engineer eco-friendly construction materials. Led by bioengineer Michelle Oyen at the University of Cambridge, the biomimicry study looks at organic substances as an alternative to traditional materials that result in carbon emissions: according to the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC), around 40% of CO2 emissions come from building materials as they heavily rely on fossil fuels during production. This figure outnumbers the emissions from the industrial sector or the transportation sector.
“What we’re trying to do is to rethink the way that we make things,” the researcher says in an official statement release by the university. “Engineers tend to throw energy at problems, whereas nature throws information at problems – they fundamentally do things differently.”
The researcher has received funding from the US Army Corps of Engineers with which she makes samples of fabricated bones and eggshells. Just like real shells and bones, the artificial eco-friendly materials are constructed with protein and minerals that gives them “stiffness, hardness, toughness and resistance to fracture.” To make the artificial bones and eggshells, the minerals are patterned onto collagen, the protein, at room temperature. The low amount of heat required by the process makes it cost and energy efficient.
“One of the interesting things is that the minerals that make up bone deposit along the collagen, and eggshell deposits outwards from the collagen, perpendicular to it,” the researcher said. “So it might even be the case that these two composites could be combined to make a lattice-type structure, which would be even stronger – there’s some interesting science there that we’d like to look into.” Oyen is currently testing the reliance of a synthetic non-animal protein source to replace collagen.
This is not the first innovative step to be taken in order to revolutionize building materials to become more eco-friendly. Some construction companies have produced smog-eating concrete while others are experimenting with 100% recycled-waste bricks.
Although the idea of artificial bones to construct houses sounds new and daring, it might face resistance from the public who would simply fear the concept and might question the durability of such product.