Published on February 29th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley


Huge Cuts In Brick CO2 Emissions Coming From Startup BioMason

February 29th, 2016 by  

Originally published on Ecopreneurist.

BioMason makes emissions free bricks

BioMason is a North Carolina startup company that manufactures bricks without heat or clay. About 8% of global carbon emissions come from making bricks, according to the company’s co-founder, Ginger Krieg Dosier, citing information from the EPA. The BioMason process not only creates no carbon emissions, it even re-uses the water needed to make its bricks.

Founded in 2012 by Dosier and her husband, Michael, the building-materials company grows bricks and masonry from scratch without the need for any heat. While traditional brick making requires heating clay in kilns at 2,000 degrees for several days — which releases massive amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere — BioMason injects sand with microorganisms to initiate a process like the one that creates coral. The technique takes four days. Once completed, the bricks are strong enough for use in houses, commercial buildings, and other structures.

If the whole thing sounds a little weird to you, Dosier understands. “I knocked on a lot of doors of scientists and microbiologists,” she says of her time spent researching BioMason’s brick-making method, “and they were kind enough to not tell me I was crazy.” Investors agreed. BioMason raised $2.8 million in seed funding, grants, and awards, most of it during 2013. The money included more than $500,000 from the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, which featured a jury chaired by Richard Branson.

Dosier studied architecture at Auburn University then became a graduate student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. While working for an architectural firm in 2005, she was asked to explore green alternatives for building materials. When it came to brick and masonry, her searches came up empty. “That kind of stuck with me for a little while,” she says.

She thought coral might hold the answer. “I looked at how coral was able to make these incredible structural formations that could withstand water and erosion and began really researching how it was able to grow.” She asked scientists at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina if the process could be used to make bricks. It could be done, they said. It’s just that no one had ever tried it before.

“This required a rare combination of talents and areas of intelligence,” says Patrick Rand, professor of architecture at N.C. State, who advised Dosier on the project. “She sparked the whole process by imagining that biochemistry could do in days what geological processes have taken millennia to accomplish.” Dosier then assembled a team of employees that includes biologists, architects, engineers, and experts in fermentation.

BioMason sustainable bricksEvery bricks starts with sand packed into rectangular molds. The molds are then inoculated with bacteria, which wrap themselves around the grains of sand. With each bacteria covered grain of sand acting as a nucleus, calcium carbonate crystals begin to form around it. An irrigation system feeds the bricks nutrient rich water over the course of several days to facilitate the process. The crystals grow larger and larger, filling in the gaps between the grains of sand. After three to five days, the bricks are ready for use.

Sustainable building materials currently amount to a $36.1 billion industry. It is expected to grow by more than 10% annually until 2020, according to market researcher IBISWorld.

Finding customers is a daunting task. “The design and construction industry is a big dinosaur,” says Ihab Elzeyadi, a professor at the University of Oregon’s Ph.D. in architecture program. “It moves very slowly. It doesn’t embrace change very easily.” There are also building codes to be met and building inspectors to convince. While there are industry standards for traditional bricks and masonry, no such measures yet exist for biological products.

But Dosier says once potential customers see the results of durability testing performed by third-party labs, they’re convinced. The bricks have proved to be as durable as sandstone. They also can be made in many shapes and sizes. BioMason has licensing agreements with two US-based manufacturers of construction materials and is in talks with several more, including two European companies. Her bio-bricks are expected to be competitive with standard bricks by the time they hit the market in 2017.

Dosier is committed to finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “I really wanted to pursue a different approach to how materials were made,” she says. “It just didn’t seem right for us to essentially extract material from the ground and then fire it with quite a large amount of fossil fuel just to make a hard product.” She says, “Our goal is to impact. It’s a global goal,” says Dosier. “We wanted to do what had never been done before, to push the boundaries. And instead of being ‘less bad,’ we wanted to completely redo it–the hard way.” Elon Musk couldn’t have said it any better.

Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.

  • disqus_KA9qYlDVdI

    LOVE IT. Well done Tarheel!

  • Ross

    Could this be used instead of concrete in reinforced concrete constructions?

    • JamesWimberley

      Hum. If you need reinforced concrete, you need pretty high strength. This startup are targeting ordinary brickwork, which is much less demanding. It may still be OK if they can’t match the strength of engineering bricks. In Spain, interior partitions in houses and flats ( not load-bearing) are normally constructed using alveolated bricks. Adobe, basically dried mud, is a perfectly good building material in dry climates.

      • neroden

        It’s good for reinforced concrete. Not a substitute for steel.

      • neroden

        I still think Ferrock and Novacem are more promising in the short term (so someone commercialize them already, OK?)

    • Guest

      See my reply above to ROBwithaB.

  • heinbloed

    The article speaks of a mix which contains various things plus what is mentioned, it does not give the full ingredients list.

    Making mortar with the aid of urine, sour milk, whey etc. is done since ages, the Romans used this method as far as I remember.
    There is nothing to be patented except the secret agents maybe ….

    • Zorba

      He asked where the carbon was coming from for the calcium carbonate, so I pointed out that yeast extract (rich in carbon) was also added even if not mentioned in this CT post. I’m not claiming there weren’t other ingredients not mentioned or commenting on what is patented, just thought it was useful additional information.

  • heinbloed

    Doing the fact check some strange things pop up:

    Common clay bricks are not made at 2000 degrees but somewhere between 800 and 1000 degrees Celsius
    The glazed,water proof bricks are made at about 1000 degrees and the ‘breathable’ ones at around 800-900 degrees Celsius.
    That is half the temperatures the authors claim.

    And there is certainly not 20g of nitrogen to be found in the human pee, it is more likely 5-8 grams.
    With 20g one would be seriously dehydrated and somewhere near death.

    And another thought: what bacteria produce others will eat.

    • Peter

      I presume it’s measured in Fahrenheit.

      • heinbloed

        Thanks, I should have thought about this.
        At 1000-1100 degrees Celsius only the ultra hard bricks are fired to create a flux of the silicate which make them water proof.

        The bio-bricks are certainly not water proof.Their standard brick competitors are fired at somewhere 800 – 900 degrees Celsius.

    • Andre Needham

      They probably meant 2000 degrees F. (Actually, a quick Google search for “clay brick 2000 degrees” verifies that.)

      • heinbloed

        Yes, thanks.

    • JamesWimberley

      Your last sentence must be wrong. Molluscs, diatoms and corals all produce entirely inedible exoskeletons made of calcium carbonate. Their ancestors laid down beds of limestone by the gigatonne. It was news to me that bacteria can do the same, but it’s not at all implausible.

      • neroden

        You name the substance, there’s *some* bacterium that can eat it, but if it’s eaten very, very, very slowly, it’ll last longer than humanity.

      • heinbloed

        Here you see the pictures in green:

        (pictures 4-6)

        The material is virtually composted. Not only bacteria eat bacteria products, nitrogen is the base for all plant life.

        Such a material not only decomposes in light but also in darkness, within a building mold will grow everywhere.

        Since the material is porous it will seep water in and out and acts as a soil, full of life.

        In ancient times white washing once per year or two years was used to counteract this problem, more (CO2 releasing) lime stone based disinfectant was added to the structure as long as it stood.

        Without the regular disinfecting the walls crumble, are turned back into sand.

        Another thought: the structural steel will corrode if the concrete is made with pee (salt).

        We hear about this project since a couple years but they did not get 1 working brick into the market.

        Why is the brick and cement industry not picking it up? A rhetorical question, there is no way a civilized nation’s building standards would allow for such a product to be used in structural, load bearing applications.

    • Matt

      Another example of where a carbon fee helps move things forward. Running the kills would cost a lot more, so trying new methods become $mportant instead of being and hearted.

  • Joseph Dubeau

    Very cool.

  • One of the greatest sources of pollution in my city (El Paso TX) is a large Brick Kiln across the border in Mexico. If I was retired, this is exactly the type of project I would pursue. I would travel to learn about the process then offer free consulting to the Mexico Kiln to run this product on a prototype line and try to convince them to make the transition away from traditional brick making.

    • Otis11

      Why go to the Kiln there? Make it here in the US and undersell them!

      It’s harder to convince a company to change than it is to make them obsolete!

  • vensonata

    If real, genius award is due.

  • Karl the brewer

    You have just gotta love yeast!

    • Raquelwwilson2

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      • Karl the brewer

        Quite frankly Raquel, I think you may be telling porky pies.

        • vensonata .

          Man, I told Raquel to wait in the truck…but she just doesn’t listen.

    • vensonata .

      I get it…beer.

  • S Herb

    It sounds as if with more development one might also be able to replace cement or concrete in some larger structures? Does the irrigation technique limit the thickness?

  • ROBwithaB

    This is interesting.
    Could the process actually be carbon-negative?
    I’d like more information: How strong are the bricks? (typically we’d need something like 15-25MPa, depending on where the bricks will be used). What do they currently cost? What climactic conditions are ideal for the growth of the organisms? What sort of production are they able to sustain at the moment? What sorts of shapes can be accommodated? (Could I “grow” my own gargoyle?)
    How are they hoping to monetise the technology?
    All these things, and more.
    Links, please…

  • JamesWimberley

    Where does the carbon come from to make the carbonate matrix? Since there is no mention of a specific step in the process, it looks as if it’s simply the CO2 dissolved naturally in water. But it would be easy enough to increase the concentration.

    • Zorba

      I think it’s from the yeast extract which is high in carbon. I found this description of the process:

      “The raw input materials used in biocement production include sporosarcina pasteurii (bacteria anaerobically grown with NaCl, yeast extract), while cementation feedstocks include yeast extract, urea, and calcium chloride. These inputs are inexpensive, globally abundant, and manufactured in ambient temperatures. The water component used to deliver the cementation reagents is recycled in a closed-loop system and reused in the manufacturing process. Biomass ammonium by-products are captured in a closed-loop system.

      Since biological cements are formed in a different crystalline process than Portland based cements, recent tests have been successful with seawater. The production of yeast extract is a by-product of the brewing industry and/or fermented in high volumes with yeast cells lysed with sodium chloride. The nitrogen component is currently sourced from urea, and may be sourced from wastewater (each human produces over 20g/L daily) or agricultural resources from swine and poultry production. Calcium, the final input for cementation is sourced from industrial grade Calcium Chloride, and can be sourced from an array of waste byproducts ranging from desalination brine effluent to calcium acetate. “

      • JamesWimberley

        Thanks, that’s helpful.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Cool. One more problem solved. Hopefully.

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