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Bio-bricks made from urine could offer a sustainable building option

Houses may one day be built with “bio-bricks” made from urine which create a sustainable and environmentally friendly building material, according to a new study.

It may sound unusual or just plain gross, but urine has been called “liquid gold” in previous studies because of its many potential uses. Now, researchers from the University of Cape Town are the first to use the byproduct to make bricks.

A study detailing the bio-brick making process was published in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering.

The researchers were able to use synthetic urine to make calcium carbonate which cements with sand and can be molded, much like any traditional brick.

Bio-bricks, which can be created at room temperatures, could provide a sustainable alternative for reducing emissions and energy consumption.

To make calcium carbonate using urine, first, an enzyme called urease breaks down the urea in the urine. This process, called microbial carbonate precipitation produces the calcium carbonate, according to Newsweek.

More testing and development is required to improve the strength and shape of the bricks, but the technology has a lot of promise.

“At the moment, the bricks are still in the early stages of development. “We still need to optimize the process and we want to further increase the strength,” said Dyllon Randall, a researcher for the study. “We also need to develop an integrated process that makes urine collection easier.”

Randall also explained to Newsweek that the microbial carbonate precipitation process creates nitrogen and potassium which could be used for making fertilizers.

“I think more people are realizing the importance of recycling and upcycling of various ‘waste’ streams,” said Randall. We need to stop thinking about things as waste but rather consider them as resources. This will help us achieve a truly sustainable future.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: University of Cape Town

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