Berlin-based company Made of Air GmbH, has come up with a radical carbon-negative building material to fight escalating climate change.
W hilst we celebrate rapid modernisation, new constructional feats, and technological advancement we often ignore the adverse impact these have on the planet. We crave for improved standard of living and in general, improved quality of life, however, deteriorating quality of air remains unaccounted.
The construction sector delivers the infrastructure and buildings to the society by consumption of large amount of non-renewable energy. Consequently, this consumption leads to substantial emission of CO2. Records suggest, nearly 40% of carbon emissions are caused by construction industries. In fact, in India, the construction sector alone emits about 22% of the total annual emission of CO2 resulting from the Indian economy.
Buildings and infrastructure basically are inert in nature and they don’t interact with climate change, and if we fail to challenge this status-quo, we may have to face complete annihilation. Estimating the ever growing demands of the exploding population we should plan ahead for sustainable urbanisation. Why not use urban growth to actively reverse climate change and make our environment carbon negative?
Alternative building materials could be that catalyst that would bring in a much needed change. Biochar is a material that’s produced from plant waste or what we call as biomass. It is made by heating biomass to a temperature of 400 – 800°C under the absence of oxygen. This process is called pyrolysis.
While biochar has excellent insulating properties, it also improves the air quality. And characterised to be highly porous in nature, it captures and then locks atmospheric carbon dioxide in buildings and potentially reduces greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 25%. The researchers have claimed ‘every tonne of biochar used in a building’s envelope leads to prevention of equivalent of more or less one tonne of CO2 from re-entering the atmosphere.’
Research on Biochar as a potential building material and its applications has been on for several years now, and the possibilities of using Biochar in plaster or using it as an admixture in concrete, have been successfully examined.
Recognising the latent qualities of Biochar, Allison Dring, an architect and co-founder of Berlin-based think-tank Elegant Embellishments, along with production expert Daniel Schwaag has developed a carbon negative material made of 90 percent atmospheric carbon called Made of Air.
Made of Air constitutes of biochar and a biodegradable binder. Since the material is thermoplastic, it can be easily moulded into any shape and various forms – including façade panels, paver blocks, and structural elements.
The innovator, Allison Dring further explains the material’s scope and intent, “We have identified five industries where MOA can be best applied – building facades, furniture, interiors, transport, and urban infrastructure.”
The production process of Made of Air doesn’t include any use of fossil fuels. Moreover, at the end of its lifespan, it doesn’t cause any toxic effects. Made of Air can be shredded and then sequestered in the soil as a soil conditioner.
Even the heat released during pyrolysis can be stored and converted into electrical energy. Allison strongly asserts, “If we have to build, shouldn’t our new and regenerated buildings be active in reversing climate change and increasing biodiversity? Using or consuming products which have sequestered carbon reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.”
Easy adaptability and applicability makes Made of Air a very versatile material. It can be used in urban landscaping as well – where the maintenance of public parks amount to tons of organic waste such as dry leaves, and trimmings – the resultant biomass can be productively converted into pavers, public benches, bikes stands, etc., creating an efficient production cycle.
Recently, Made of Air GmbH was awarded €10,000 Govtech Prize for Germany. Allison and Daniel’s company Elegant Embellishments has also innovated customised facades that actively neutralise urban pollutants such as Nitrous Oxide which already have been applied on large buildings around the world.
Materials like Made of Air pave way towards an ideal situation of creating carbon positive environment and reducing the overall CO2 footprint of buildings. Since our ambitions for development are here to stay, and there is no alternative to construction, let’s instead choose to store carbon in a meaningful and useful manner in the buildings of our cities.