A friend of mine told me how, quite a few years ago now, while on holiday in Italy, in the place he and his wife were staying there was a “bio-lago.” This was essentially a green swimming lake – green in the sense that is was environmentally friendly, not because of its colour. He said it was lovely, both to look at and to swim in. Admittedly, it's easier to swim outdoors in Italy, but it does show just how green initiatives can be both good fun and practical.
What's this got to do with construction? Well, it's by way of preamble to the more important and equally environmentally friendly story that Arup is driving forward the use of organic waste, from mushrooms to bananas, to make building materials.
In fact, as the report on their website makes clear, there are a host of vegetables and other matter that can be used, successfully, to make bricks: (mushrooms); partitions (peanut husks); fillers (rice); and insulating/acoustic barriers (potato peelings).
Clearly, so long as there are no safety implications, this is a really interesting development. Arup has been in this game for some time, developing their SolarLeaf façade, which uses cultivated micro-algae to generate heat and biomass, and also BioBuild, a self-supporting façade panel made from bio-composite materials.
The implications of this are huge. Given the amount of raw materials consumed by the construction industry (Arup says in the UK construction is responsible for 60% of all raw materials consumed), the potential for reducing CO2 and creating a circular bio-life cycle, where plant waste used for building is, eventually, fed back into the soil, is immense.
Moreover, while I am not an engineer, my first instinct was that the amount of food waste in the country could, in the future, be made better use of (it would be better still if we didn’t waste it, but that’s possibly asking too much of our risk-averse, throwaway society). In the UK, we throw out £13BN of food every year: in the world – mainly the western world - it’s estimated that one third – 1.3BN tons – of the food produced is thrown away. I am not being entirely flippant when I say that, perhaps in the near future, our housing shortage is going to be solved, literally, by the top bananas. Obviously, a lot of work would need to be done by government to change regulations – and in the aftermath of Grenfell there will be a lot of concern about anything like that – but it’s only by innovating and developing brilliant new ideas like this that our species develops and creates the sustainable economy - not to mention the houses and buildings - we all need to survive.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment
If you’d like to know more about Arup’s amazing work in this field, you can download their Urban Bio-loop paper here.