‘Living’ Buildings Might Inhale Urban Carbon Emissions
Dr. Rachel Armstrong, a senior TED fellow and co-director of Avatar, a research group exploring advanced technologies in architecture, is promoting the development of buildings with “lungs” that could absorb carbon emissions and convert them into something useful and “skin” that could control interior temperatures without radiators or air-conditioning. She projects that, “Over the next 40 years, these ‘living’ buildings, biologically programmed to extract carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, could fill our cities.”
It’s an application of synthetic biology, a new science devoted to the manufacture of lifelike matter from synthesized chemicals that engineers create to behave like organic microorganisms, with the added benefit that they can be manipulated to do things nature can’t. Armstrong calls them protocells.
She explains, “A protocell could be mixed with wall paint and programmed to produce limestone when exposed to carbon [emissions] on the surface of a building. Then you’ve got a paint that can actually eat carbon and change it into a shell-like substance.”
As an added feature, protocells could naturally heal micro-fractures in walls, channeling through tiny breaks and helping to extend the life of the structure. Plus, says Armstrong, “The thickness of the limestone will grow over time, creating insulation and allowing the building to retain more heat or [else] sheltering it from heating up underneath the sun.”