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Growing bricks in a lab

Can you grow a brick? Turns out, the answer is yes — and it may be a lot better for the environment and safer for the people working in construction zones.

"Right now, the building supplies industry is responsible for 23 per cent of the world's global CO2 emissions," said Adrian Simone, who is part of the University of Waterloo student team that created the Bio-Brick invention.

The technology received national recognition this past week after placing as a runner-up winner of the James Dyson Award.

"The amount of green options available to builders right now is not adequate, there's not enough," Simone said. "The ones that are available are completely priced out, so most people, most builders just can't use them."

Simone used to work as a project manager of an asphalt paving company. He said what he saw on site inspired him to try and find an alternative that was safer for workers.

"I would notice that in the middle of the summer, a lot of the guys out there who are laying this asphalt, standing in front of this 120 degree molten tar and the fumes coming off of it, are having horrible effects on their health."

He said be believes the traditional brick-making process may lead to long-term illnesses and injuries.

"The amount of burns that would happen on site were extremely high," he said, noting that even with several safety measures in place, workers' would get second degree burns on their shins.

"It starts to look different and have trouble walking and it hurts them," Simone said.

How does it work?

To put it simply, the Bio-Brick is created in room temperature and uses bacteria to slowly grow a brick in a mould.

Rania Al-Sheikhly, one of the creators, said the brick can easily be grown onsite for any construction project.

"The bacteria can be grown similar to fermentation tanks for beer and things like that, so it doesn't have to stay in the sterile environment, it just needs to be able to grow in a room temperature container for a day or so and then it can be used."

She said the process begins by placing the bacteria in a nutrient broth for a couple days.

"It's just a broth that it feeds off of and it allows it to multiply. Then we take our mould and we put the sand in it and we mix in the bacteria. We let that sit for a few hours, drain, add some solution and we just repeat the process for a few days until it solidifies into a brick."

She said they mix in recycled sand or demolition waste with the bacteria to create the Bio-Brick, which is just as strong and affordable as the bricks traditionally used in construction sites today.

The Bio-Brick technology is currently still in the prototype testing phase.


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