Biological engineering has traditionally been associated with human health matters. Revolutionising this practice in design and construction could see the elimination of excess carbon emissions and complete global sustainable living.
Biological engineering, in its most basic form, is the process of studying living organisms and analyzing how their abilities or form can be re-created to serve a purpose. This scientific practice focuses on taking natural orgasms and using their different aspects in solving problematic societal or health matters.
This application is now being used in construction and design. In his 2010 lecture at TEDsalon in London, Michael Pawlyn described this theory in terms of construction and how it is being used globally to create sustainable living, as well as reversing specific global warming issues.
In exploring how this process is able to work in a construction and design arena the focus is channeled through three natural occurring aspects; radical resource efficiency (more commonly referred to as radical resource productivity), close loops and energy from the sun in the form of solar power.
The close loop theory is the very basic idea of creatively reusing, and recreating a material that can be effective for the uses of more than one business or establishment. Pawlyn uses the example of the cardboard box at a restaurant. The cardboard goes through stages of being bedding for a horses stable, through to being food for fish, which are then sold back to the restaurant. This close loop theory is in itself a sustainable concept that uses creative means of recycling on a large scale to benefit business as much as the environment.
Radical resource efficiency is defined by the dictionary of sustainable management as “obtaining the same or increased amount of utility or work from a product or process while using fewer resources, including energy, man-made materials, and natural resources such as air, water, or minerals”.
Pawlyn uses the example of the spinneret glands on a spider to illustrate radical resource efficiency in real terms. Using these glands the spider is able to create a silk. It is able to naturally create a material stronger than any man made fiber using only dead flies and water. This idea is juxtaposed against the man made interpretation of this material, aramid fiber. In comparison to the natural and zero carbon emission process of the spiders silk, aramid fiber is made using copious amounts of energy and creates extensive carbon emissions. What this means for the construction industry is that by studying this natural process it is apparent that processes are available to maintain a modern civilized environment, whilst still being sustainable.
This idea is then extended upon. By including the factors that – through radical resource efficiency – money and natural resources can be saved, as well as seeing a reversal in resource depletion.
A reversal in depletion is something that is almost completely unique to construction-based biological engineering. This process is not simply promoting sustainability, but offering a way to reclaim desolated land.
A project using these ideals as well as intensive solar power utilities is the Sea Water Green House and its evolution into the Sahara Desert. The process in both the former and latter projects involve masses of concentrated solar power and the use of creative means of using the waste of a green house building to feed surrounding areas, turning baron land into fertile grassland. Plans have been made to stop or even reverse the desertification at the edge of the Sahara, which would create a lush environment, as well as create zero energy and carbon emission food.
“We receive ten thousand times as much energy from the sun every year as we use in energy of all forms. So our energy problems are not intractable. It’s a challenge to our ingenuity.” Pawlyn says.
By adapting to climate change it is possible for the construction and design industry to benefit from innovative sustainable options. It is clear that with building and design ingenuity it is possible to not only promote an eco-friendly environment, but also create enormous growth in industry productivity.