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.

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.

About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.