Printable Brick Could Cut World's Carbon Emissions by "At Least" 800 Million Tons a Year [UPDATED]

The brick, made of sand, bacteria, and urea, has won Metropolis's 2010 Next Generation award.

<a href=Ginger Krieg Dosier" />

UPDATE: Dosier has send us pictures of the process, which you can see below

Metropolis magazine has announced the winner of its 2010 Next Generation contest: A brick that doesn't have to be baked or fired, but rather, can be grown.

The Next Generation contest awards designs that tackle the world's problems, and the humble brick is a Big Problem. As our own Suzanne LeBarre writes:

Tossing a clay brick into a coal-powered kiln, then firing it up to 2,000˚F, emits about 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide. Multiply that by the 1.23 trillion bricks manufactured each year, and you’re talking about more pollution than what’s produced by all the airplanes in the world.

Ginger Krieg Dosier (above), a professor at the American University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, invented an alternative: A process for printing bricks, using low-cost rapid-prototyping machines.

The process starts with sand, which is then printed with a layer of bacteria, calcium chloride, and urea. Microbes in the sand react with that mixture, forming a glue that binds the sand together. The bricks are built up in the printer, one layer at a time, like lasagna (but with urea). When finished, they can be as strong as marble.

Dosier is dreaming big: She figures that replacing traditional bricks with her biomanufactured masonry would reduce world-wide carbon emissions by "at least" 800 million tons a year.

As you might guess, she's a fascinating personality. She got an undergrad degree at Auburn, learning at the knee of Samuel Mockbee, whose Rural Studio inspired an entire generation of architecture meant to level social inequity. Before attending grad-school at Cranbrook, she threw away everything she owned, in an attempt to step off the consumer treadmill. Eventually, she became an architecture professor and spent more than four years learning chemistry and, eventually, developing her brick-growing process.

For now, the only problem is how slow the process is: It would need to be many times faster to compete with traditional brick-making processes.


For more, check out Metropolis.

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  • Doug S

    This is a very interesting article. I would, however, have to agree with Bruce that so many important questions aren't even broached. The current manufacturing process for clay bricks creates a product with a high compressive strength and environmental durability. However, the process does have quite a large carbon footprint that must be remedied. After looking around on websites provided in the article, I didn't see any information about the brick other than the projections for the brick's CO2 savings. What kind of compressive strength and freeze/thaw durability are they expecting? Would the bricks be hydrophobic or hydrophilic? This would be a key attribute, because it would, at the least, describe how the brick would respond to mortar. Other things I would enjoy reading would be expected results for: thermal conductivity, specific gravity, coloring capabilities, and many other properties. Sorry, this post turned way too long. I think this product is extremely fascinating, but there are so many questions to answer before knowing if it is actually a viable option for such a competitive industry.

  • UncleB

    Brick that cure themselves chemically without the big furnaces and the baking process! Do they continue hardening over the years? Do they take on water ? Do they stink like a piss pot in the rain? Are they heavier, lighter than common bricks/ can they give the Third World an edge in construction? Do they absorb, emit radiation? Are they thermally insulators, conductors of heat? What can be used to ceent them together? Can they be molded into shapes?

  • roger

    I never post. Ever. But I read alot and when I saw this one I had to post. Signed up and in which I hate. But you comment made me laugh and made me think wow wat a worthless article. If its a viable replacement to the brick then brick companies would have industrial sized versions creating 200 by 200 sq ft slabs and cutting to spec. But like all new things maybe it needs some refinement and will get better thus becoming a viable alternative. ( HEY I JUST MADE THE ARTICLE RATIONAL) Its a tech sight everything starts somewhere.
    You ask to many questions. O and then dont heal themselves WOW HAHA

  • Frank

    Your reply is nonsensical. No one asks "too many questions." Bruce Miller raises a number of interesting points that make us realize that this printable brick is neither practical nor financially viable.

    Yes, as you point out, it is only in its infancy and might very well turn out to be the next big thing. However, at this point, there's no point swooning over its hypothetical benefits.

    N.B. "cure" in a chemical context (esp. one related to bricks curing) does not mean "heal". Look it up ;)