Researchers to develop bioreactor walls

Blocks capable of recycling wastewater and generating electricity are being created in a research project. The project will develop blocks able to extract resources from sunlight, waste water and air. The bricks fit together to create ‘bioreactor walls’, which could be incorporated in housing, public buildings and office spaces.

Each block will contain a microbial fuel cell, filled with programmable synthetic microorganisms. Robotically activated, each chamber will contain a variety of microorganisms chosen to clean water, reclaim phosphate, generate electricity and create new detergents. The living cells that will make up the wall will be able to sense their surroundings and respond to them through a series of digitally coordinated mechanisms.

The €3.2m LIAR (Living Architecture) scheme is co-ordinated by Newcastle University working with the universities of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and Trento, the Spanish National Research Council, and innovators LIQUIFER Systems Group and EXPLORA.

“The best way to describe what we’re trying to create is a ‘biomechanical cow’s stomach’,” said Rachel Armstrong, professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University, UK, who is coordinating the project. “It contains different chambers, each processing organic waste for a different, but overall related, purpose – like a digestive system for your home or your office.

Professor Andrew Adamatzky, director of the Centre for Unconventional Computing at UWE Bristol, who will lead on the digital coordinated mechanisms, added: “We will produce buildings which are biological computers.”

The LIAR project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

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