Smart bricks would enable walls to generate electricity

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To develop buildings that act like large-scale living organisms scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are developing smart bricks which would make use of microbes to recycle wastewater, generate electricity and produce oxygen.

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs)that would be embedded in the bricks to give them their smart capabilities have proven handy in the past, with researchers demonstrating how they can be used to generate electricity from human urine, dead flies or just plain old mud.

Microbial fuel cells are energy transducers that exploit the metabolic activity of the constituent microbes to break down organic waste and generate electricity, says Ioannis Ieropoulos, professor at UWE Bristols Robotics Laboratory. This is a novel application for MFC modules to be made into actuating building blocks as part of wall structures. This will allow us to explore the possibility of treating household waste, generating useful levels of electricity, and have active programmable walls within our living environments.

The researchers said that the living engines of these walls would be able to sense the environment both outside and inside the building including its human occupants and react accordingly. Depending on how they’re programmed, these bioreactor walls would be able to take in inputs such as grey water, carbon dioxide, sunlight, algae, bacteria and nutrients, and in turn produce resources like polished water, oxygen, electricity, heat, biodegradable detergents, biomass and biofluorescence.

The technologies we are developing aim to transform the places where we live and work enabling us to co-live with the building, says Andrew Adamatzky, the professor leading the UWE Bristol team. Each smart brick is an electrical analogous computer. A building made of such bricks will be a massive parallel computing processor.