Human activity is causing major pollution including the introduction of heavy metals, chemical compounds and nutrient-loaded wastewater into the environment. This is polluting aquatic environments causing a decline in biodiversity and is even polluting groundwater sources. Plants and trees and other living organisms have natural filtering and buffering abilities but these vary by plant and by pollutant. For example, some types of moss have been found to absorb lead and arsenic whilst water mint can remove bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella. Advanced ecologically engineered systems (AEES) have been developed which utilise the natural abilities of living organisms to break down macromolecules and metabolise organic nutrients typically found in wastewater and polluted water bodies. The choice of bioremediation strategy depends upon the nature and characteristics of the environment polluted, the nature of pollutants and the availability of biological agents. Microorganisms and plants work together to decontaminate and depollute water. These can be employed externally and internally if the right environment for plant life is generated. For example, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission shown in the photograph below has an AEES system installed that can treat up to 5,000 gallons of wastewater each day, saving up to 750,000 gallons of water every year.
Construction generates nearly 40% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and one-third of the world’s waste. However, there are many solutions revolving around bioconstruction being introduced, or re-introduced, into the market. Cob is an ancient material which mixes sand, clay and fibres to construct walls. This was used as far back as the 13th century in the UK but was gradually replaced with more advanced materials which had proven thermal performance. However, the CobBauge Project, funded by the European Union, aims to provide clear performance and usage data such that it meets the thermal performance requirements of modern buildings regulations, specifically Part A and L. The solution combines two 300mm thick layers: a structural inner-face made from cob and an insulating outer face made from lighter earth. This pilot is hoped to act as inspiration for future construction, moving away from more carbon-intensive materials.
Mycelium is a new construction material but an age-old part of our ecosystems. It is the root network of fungi which decomposes organic material within our soils but can be grown from agricultural wastes. When dried the mycelium becomes inactive and forms a building material resistant to water, mould and fire. Despite its lack of compressive strength, it is lightweight meaning it can be stacked as high as 40ft. Fungi also self-regenerates quickly meaning products have potential for fast manufacturing turnovers. So far only experimental construction has taken place with mycelium bricks such as the Hy-Fi Tower in New York. But Italian firm Mogu is already selling flooring tiles and soundproofing wall panels made from mycelium and British firm BIOHM is working to release the first accredited mycelium-based insulation product.