• Producing bricks with sand and bacteria

    1. In a BioBrick bacteria glue the grains of the sand together to form stone. We asked Leon Paassen of TU Delft to tell a bit more about his project in the Biodesign exhibition.
      Sandstone, a mix of sand and bacteria/1
    2. 1.  Could you briefly describe the essence of your project? 

      Biogrout is a process in which micro-organisms in the soil are stimulated to produce calcium carbonate, a mineral, which fills up the pore space between the soil particles and glues them together. The process can be used to increase the strength of sandy soils, in order to prevent erosion of beaches and slopes, improve the stability of foundations or underground constructions or clog leaks in underground excavations. The process has been successfully applied to stabilize the borehole, during the construction and underground installation of a large gas pipeline underneath the river Waal in The Netherlands. The process could perhaps have prevented the damage, which occurred during the construction of Vijzelgracht station where water flowing into the building pit flushed the sand away underneath the pile foundations of the neighbouring houses.
      Biobricks, the project that is on show in the exhibition, is another application of this process in which the sand, bacteria and substrates are mixed in a mold and left to harden to form sandstone bricks, which can be used as building material. 

      2. How does your project contribute to the goal of ‘working with biology in creative and respectful ways,’ as curator William Myers puts it?

      In terms of sustainability biogrout or biobricks are not yet fully optimized. All biocementation applications which have been demonstrated so far have been using a process which still requires the cultivation of specific bacteria, specific substrates (which in some cases are produced from fossil fuels) and sometimes produce waste products which have to be treated to minimize their impact on the environment. In that sense the term biological is often too easily taken as synonym for "sustainable".

      3. Do you have a suggestion for how the expertise of artists and designers could be linked with that of scientists?

      Artists and scientists complement each other. Both have essential skills. Sometimes too much in depth knowledge can block creativity, while creativity without proper arguments can lead to unrealistic ideas.

      4. What is your favourite new project in the biodesign field at the moment and why?

      I have been collaborating with several architecture students in the past and I am amazed how beautiful they can present their projects and combine principles of building with nature. A nice example of combining architecture with nature is the Acros building in  Fukuoka, Japan, where I am currently doing research with some of my Japanese colleagues.

      5. What are you currently working on?

      Currently I am developing with a team of students new, more sustainable biocementation processes, which use waste products as nutrients to stimulate the indigenous population of micro-organisms to cement sandy soils, without producing waste products. Also I am looking how biological process are affecting the engineering behavior of  soft soils like clays and peat.

      Bacteria forming biocement, Lake Thetis Australia. Photo: Leon van Paassen/1
      Leon van Paassen analysing samples from biogrout experminent/1
      Taking soil samples, photo Leon van Paassen/1
  1. The New Institute
  3. Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi)
  4. Premsela, the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion
  5. Virtueel Platform, e-culture knowledge institute
  1. Museumpark 25
  2. Rotterdam
  1. +31 (0)10 4401200
  2. service@hetnieuweinstituut.nl
  3. hetnieuweinstituut.nl