What is Living Building Material?

One of the most intriguing new trends in the construction industry is the use of living building material. And while it’s still very young, it’s gathering momentum. Living building material refers to materials used in construction or industrial design that behave in a way that resembles a living organism. Examples include: self-mending biocement, self-replicating concrete replacement, and mycelium-based composites. Those developing living building materials aim to cut down on carbon emissions and possibly even remove existing carbon and pollution from the environment, while providing building materials of the same or greater quality to those in the industry. When you search “living building material”, there are almost 1.3 million entries, and search for this term has increased by 4,500% over the last 10 years. When it’s looked at from  an environmental standpoint, the decision to explore and switch to this kind of material when feasible is clear.

The entire construction supply chain accounts for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

And carbon released in the construction process accounts for close to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the construction and real estate sectors. And the number of new buildings isn’t expected to slow anytime soon as the global building stock is expected to double by 2060 to accommodate growing populations.

One of the main building components that is being explored is cement, since cement production alone accounts for 8% of global CO2 emissions. And if this sector is to meet its Paris Agreement climate change goals, emissions will need to fall by 16% before 2030.

According to the BBC, if the cement sector were a country, it would be the third-largest carbon emitter, behind China and the U.S. That’s why new products like self-replicating concrete and self-mending biocement are being developed.

Biocement is grown using biological materials instead of created from non-renewable materials. It stimulates native soil bacteria to cement soil particles together through a process known as Microbial Induced Calcite Precipitation (MICP). The product is then shipped as a dry powder to be mixed in water. The resulting nutrient rich solution is then fed to native soil bacteria, which grow in proportion to the amount of nutrients, cementing the soil together. Cemented soil particles form a hardened, less permeable material similar to limestone. Permeability and strength can be tailored to meet project specifications. And the process actually absorbs CO2 instead of emitting it.

Innovations like this can allow “manufacturers” to grow building materials that self-replicate, making it much easier and efficient to scale.