Buildings covered in vegetation aren’t just beautiful. They also capture CO2 and provide insulation—you just have to deal with the fact that they need support structures that stress building walls and require lots of maintenance. Not so with the biological concrete developed by researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC).
The concrete requires no support structures because it actually supports fungi, moss, lichen, and microalgae growth on its own. UPC’s biological concrete is just regular concrete (carbonated concrete and concrete made with magnesium phosphate cement) with some tweaks of the material’s pH, roughness, and porosity. In the end the researchers are left with a four-layer concrete panel: a waterproofing layer, a structural layer, a biological layer that captures and stores rainwater, and a coating layer that lets rainwater in and keeps it from leaving.
Next up for the researchers: figuring out how to speed up vegetation growth on the concrete. The concrete, part of student Sandra Manso’s doctoral thesis, is already patented and a Catalan company called ESCOFET 1886 S.A. is reportedly interested in commercializing it.
If the material isn’t too pricey, it could give designers the chance to create decorative living walls in places where it previously wasn’t viable because of the heavy support structures or intensive maintenance required.