This year's Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria was really fun, but in particular, I enjoyed meeting the great speakers on my panel. One of the speakers whose talk I missed because of a media interview was Ginger Krieg Dosier. She is an assistant architecture professor at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE, just a few minutes from my home in Dubai so we exchanged business cards in Linz and promised to connect back home.
Last week, I met Ginger at the appropriately ecologically and biologically cool MORE Café where she explained what she was doing to me.
Ginger has developed a way to use a combination of bacteria, sand, calcium chloride (in sea water) and urea (the stuff in your pee) to make bricks. The bacteria are pretty common and safe. The process involves soaking the sand in the bacteria solution, feeding the bacteria a urea solution and drying. In one pass, you'll end up with something like sandstone, and with more work, you can get the brick to be as hard as marble.
What happens is that the bacteria create an amazingly strong crystallized bonding material that holds everything together and is functionally very similar to cement.
Making a clay brick in a coal-powered kiln emits about 1.3 pounds of carbon dioxide and according to Metropolis magazine, there are 1.23 trillion bricks manufactured each year.
The UAE seems like a perfect place where there is easy access to sand, urine and seawater. I can imagine some places in Africa also having an abundance of these elements. Another thing that Ginger noted was that most bricks are made by women. I can imagine that this might lower the cost of brick-making as well.
I think the key will be to figure out a way for Ginger to get this "to market" and figure out a way to provide very cheaply or free for developing countries where it might have the most impact. On the other hand, I can imagine substantial commercial value for countries like the UAE as well.