There’s no doubt that construction waste is a huge issue worldwide. In the US alone up to 530 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste materials end up in landfills every year. All that timber, concrete and asphalt is not only wasteful, it’s also bad for the environment. And so, the innovative approach of one US company that is creating a new type of building material out of recycled waste is causing quite a stir in the construction industry. Let’s find out more.

Biological process to create new material

The Cleveland-based architecture firm, Redhouse Studio, is behind this innovative approach. They have developed a biological process to turn wood scraps and other kinds of construction waste like sheathing, flooring and organic insulation into a new, brick-like building material.

The waste is combined with a biological material called mycelium. Mycelium is found naturally in the organisms that create mushrooms and it has amazing binding properties. The process can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on how much mycelium is used and how robust it is. Once the biological process is complete, the new material is compacted into sturdy, brick-like forms that can be used as a building material.

In fact, tests have shown that these bricks are superior to concrete in every way, except for compressive strength. In addition, the new bricks should in theory last for thousands of years and when it comes to retirement, the bricks can simply be composted making them a sustainable option as well.

While the biological processes currently work best with wood as the base ingredient, Redhouse Studio is experimenting with different mixes of materials and is also looking at using masonry rubble to develop another new material using a different type of bacteria. 

Possible applications

Strong and rigid but also flexible, the new bricks have several potential applications. Redhouse Studio is currently using the bricks to replace framing, insulation and fire boards. The bricks also have many potential applications in disaster-stricken areas. Mobile labs could be developed for easy deployment in areas of natural disaster where shelter and even food – through mycelium’s mushroom-creating properties – can be developed out of the rubble. Even NASA is interested in the technology as a potential method of building on Mars.

Exciting times ahead

The technology certainly is very exciting and has great potential so it’s no wonder that the worldwide construction industry is closely following progress. With construction companies accounting for double the amount of waste generated by homes, business and institutions, it’s a global issue that urgently needs to be addressed.

The processes being developed by Redhouse Studio could make a significant difference in this area, but perhaps the most valuable application will be in the area of disaster relief. Being able to use the same technology to simultaneously provide shelter as well as creating a source of food has enormous humanitarian implications. So, watch this space – there are certainly exciting times ahead in construction.