Let's Build A House of Sand and Pee

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In the search for producing greener construction materials, one design student’s idea is a wee bit different: use urine. With a portable microbial manufacturing process that works on the beach, he could be onto something.

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Peter Trimble, a 2013 graduate in product design from the University of Edinburgh, created an alternative to high-heat concrete manufacturing for his thesis project that could put urine to good use, Wired’s Liz Stinson reported.

Trimble’s materials were sand, bacteria, a nutrient broth, calcium chloride, acid, alkali and urea. While he technically could have used urine, Trimble told Stinson that he would have needed more than 26 gallons of it for his project (video). First he used a portable unit he designed to cast the sand with the bacteria. That set overnight and then a urea and calcium chloride mixture was added to bind everything together.

While Trimble did cast a small stool that held his weight without crumbling, the sandy material is still a far cry from being as strong as concrete. Spill a drink on it and you might lose your seat. But the simplicity is a step(stool) in the right direction.

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I’ve got a good feeling about concrete alternatives. These students made a robot that builds structures with sand, Ginger Krieg Dosier’s startup bioMason grows materials using microorganisms and I doubt it will be long before someone comes up with a better way to bring pee into the mix. Let’s keep on following that yellow brick road.

Photo: Peter Trimble uses his mini-manufacturing process to build a stool from sand, microbes and a bit of urea. Credit: Peter Trimble via Vimeo