I am excited about having started a long awaited endeavour: to try and create biological cement. The cement and concrete industries contribute a whopping 7% to all carbon dioxide emissions and are therefore serious polluters. Cement and concrete are incredibly prolific and undeniably useful materials, luckily new methods exist to produce them – for example to grow them. The company bioMASON grows bricks using bacteria. Watch the company’s founder’s TEDx talk in my Youtube playlist “in and around biodesign“.
The bacterium commonly used in experiments by scientists and designers is called bacillus pasteurii, but as the bacillus was a little too expensive for me to obtain at this point, I was glad that a friend pointed me in a different direction: pigeon peas. They contain a high amount of urease, the enzyme the bacillus precipitates and that I’m after.
In the last few weeks I spent time in the lab with my lab partner (and favourite former NASA engineer) and we successfully extracted urease from pigeon pea and demonstrated the formation of calcium carbonate, which we will need to bind sand together into a bio-brick. I’m looking forward to seeing the first bricks (and later entirely different shapes) forming soon.
The discoloration in the image to the left proves that urease is present in our extract and the image to the right shows the formation of calcium carbonate after the desired chemical reaction was induced.