Living Buildings of the Future
Average Rating: ( 0 votes)
In what sounds like the premise for a science fiction B movie, researchers are trying to create protocells which (among other things) can be painted onto buildings. These cells will react with CO2 in the air and form a limestone shell over the buildings which will get thicker as more CO2 builds up on them. [...]
In what sounds like the premise for a science fiction B movie, researchers are trying to create protocells which (among other things) can be painted onto buildings. These cells will react with CO2 in the air and form a limestone shell over the buildings which will get thicker as more CO2 builds up on them.
By sci-fi standards, it’s only a matter of time before the limestone shell builds up to be so thick that humans can neither enter or leave the buildings, and then even thicker so that city streets, choked with limestone, become completely impassable. After that we’ll all just be easy picking for the sentient technology that’s grown completely out of our control.
Well – that probably won’t happen, because the protocells are only going to be alive, not actually sentient. What a relief!
It turns out that, minus sensationalist images about monstrous sentient buildings taking over human civilization, this is actually a valid prospect for cleaning up our air. Dr. Rachel Armstrong works in a field called “synthetic biology”, which is trying to simulate life with chemicals. Armstrong works with chemicals that have been manipulated to act like organic microorganisms, only better – they’d be able to do things that actual microorganisms can’t do.
The example above – these protocells mixed with paint – is a realistic option for our cities. The protocells would essentially react with CO2 in the air, the same way that iron interacts with water to form rust, and the result would be a sort of limestone shell that would coat the building. The limestone coat will initially take anywhere upwards of a year to form, depending on how much CO2 is in the air, and it will grow in thickness.
Ultimately, Armstrong hopes to make protocells which can replenish themselves and “will be considered alive”. In addition to reducing a city’s carbon impact, the limestone will help shore up buildings by patching minute cracks in their walls, and it will serve as a form of insulation too. Wow!
Unfortunately for home owners looking to go greener, it’s not as simple as if running out and purchasing some home solar panels. While the technology is proving sound in the lab, it isn’t being manufactured on an industrial scale – yet. Armstrong, though she is under a nondisclosure agreement, mentioned that a paint manufacturer in the UK is “looking into” her technology. Hopefully they look into it really seriously – this is an awesome real-life use of sci-fi technology.
Photo credit: DCZWick via Flicker Creative Commons License