Bioengineer Dr Michelle Oyen of Cambridge's Department of Engineering is working with a team of researchers to create a building material composed of artificial bone and eggshell to replace concrete and steel.
As opposed to focusing on reducing the carbon footprint of already-existing building materials, Oyen and her team are looking to create an entirely new material altogether, using inspiration from nature.
Image : Shuttrestock
Biomimetics: the science of copying life
Using funding support from the US Army Corps of Engineers, Oyen is creating small samples of artificial bone and eggshell, which could be used to replace medical implants and, eventually, building material. The samples can be produced at room temperature, which further reduces their carbon footprint. To produce the material, bone and shell are "templated" onto collagen derived from animal-derived sources. Oyen is also looking for a way to create the same material without using this naturally-derived collagen.
Why bone and eggshell?
Bone and eggshell make a promising combination due to their composites of proteins and minerals. While the minerals provide stiffness to the structure, the protein provides resistance to damage. Another feature of bone, which is as yet a far way off for scientists' artificial replications, is its ability to self-heal after injury.
Going back to nature
Dr Michael Ramage from the Department of Architecture at Cambridge is also working on the future of construction. Concrete and steel are currently the go-to materials for tall buildings, but Ramage proposes that wood -- one of humanity's oldest building materials -- could provide a solution. In a report published last week, Ramage explains that "If London is going to survive an increasing population, it needs to densify. One way is taller buildings. We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers."
Ramage has recently submitted a proposal to the Mayor of London for an 80-storey, 300 m high timber skyscraper.