Smart Bricks Developed University Students Will Transform How Buildings Work

Smart bricks that can recycle wastewater and generate electricity from sunlight may be about to revolutionise the construction industry.

The bricks, which are currently being developed by a team of scientists from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), will be able to fit together to form ‘bioreactor walls,’ which could then be used in housing, public buildings, and office spaces.

In this pan-European ‘Living Architecture’ (LIAR) project led by Newcastle University, the UWE Bristol team is working on smart technologies that will be integrated into the bricks.

The LIAR project combines living architecture, computing, and engineering to develop a new approach to global sustainability issues.

The smart living bricks will be constructed from bio-reactors containing microbial cells and algae. The smart bricks, which are designed to self-adapt to changing environmental conditions, will monitor and modify air in the building as well as recognise occupants.

As part of the same process, each brick will contain Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) containing a variety of microorganisms specifically chosen to clean water, reclaim phosphate, generate electricity, and facilitate the production of new detergents.

The MFCs that will comprise the living engine of the smart brick wall will be able to sense their surroundings and respond to them via a series of digitally coordinated mechanisms.

“The technologies we are developing aim to transform the places where we live and work, enabling us to co-live with the building,” said Professor Andrew Adamatzky, LIAR project director for UWE Bristol, who leads the UWE Bristol team.

“A bio-reactor-based building will evolve into a large-scale living organism that meets all of the occupants’ environmental and energy needs.”

“Walls in buildings made of smart bricks containing bioreactors will incorporate massive-parallel computing processors where millions of living creatures sense the building’s occupants as well as the internal and external environmental conditions.

“Each smart brick is a computer with an electrical analogy.” A structure constructed of such bricks will be a massive-parallel computing processor.”

A photo-bioreactor is a device that can be programmed to generate outputs from a variety of inputs such as grey water, microbial consortiums (algae and bacteria), atmospheric carbon dioxide, and various types of nutrients.

Among these outputs are ‘polished’ water, fertiliser, extractable products (recoverable phosphate), oxygen, next generation biodegradable detergents, electricity, recoverable biomass, bio-fluorescence, and, to a lesser extent, heat.

“Microbial Fuel Cells are energy transducers that exploit the metabolic activity of the constituent microbes to break down organic waste and generate electricity,” said Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, director of the Bristol Bioenergy Centre (BBiC) at UWE Bristol.

“This is a novel application for MFC modules as actuating building blocks in wall structures. This will enable us to investigate the possibility of treating household waste, generating useful levels of electricity, and incorporating ‘active programmable’ walls into our living environments.”

“The LIAR project is incredibly exciting – it is bringing together living architecture, computing, and engineering to find a new way to tackle global issues like sustainability,” said Rachel Armstrong, professor of Experimental Architecture at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, who is co-ordinating the project.

Newcastle University is leading the £3.2 million LIAR (Living Architecture) project in collaboration with experts from the universities of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Trento, and Florence, as well as the Spanish National Research Council, LIQUIFER Systems Group, and EXPLORA.

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Last Updated on December 28, 2021


Author: Indra Gupta

Indra is an in-house writer with a love of Newcastle United and all things sustainable.

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