The population of the world is skyrocketing at an unprecedented amount - we will soon hit 9 billion people. A group of researchers in the United Kingdom thinks that part of the problem with all of that growth is that we will start running out of room for people, mostly because we don't have the building materials to handle them. So they've come up with a unique solution - artificial bone.
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Now to some that might seem like moving backwards or even sound creepy, but it is a smart move to make. Concrete and steel account for 10 percent of carbon emissions worldwide. Natural materials like bone or eggshell should manage similar strength without the pollution.
"What we’re trying to do is to rethink the way that we make things," says team leader and bioengineer Michelle Oyen. "Engineers tend to throw energy at problems, whereas nature throws information at problems - they fundamentally do things differently."
Her lab has already made small batches of artificial bone and eggshell, and the process is really cheap to do. Now they just have to scale it up.
They made the bone by taking animal collagen, one of the most abundant proteins in the world, and templated it on layers of minerals.
The bone is made up of mineral and protein, with the mineral giving hardness and stiffness and the protein building up resistance. The eggshell is thinner and lighter, making it more fragile, is about 95% mineral and 5% protein, according to Engadget.
The hope is that they will be able to layer the materials. "One of the interesting things is that the minerals that make up bone deposit along the collagen, and eggshell deposits outwards from the collagen, perpendicular to it," says Oyen. "So it might even be the case that these two composites could be combined to make a lattice-type structure, which would be even stronger - there’s some interesting science there that we’d like to look into."
It will likely be quite a while before anything is ready to hit the construction site because animal collagen isn't exactly eco-friendly and researchers are trying to find a way to use artificial collagen.
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The building industry also isn't really all that ready to use it yet. "All of our existing building standards have been designed with concrete and steel in mind. Constructing buildings out of entirely new materials would mean completely rethinking the whole industry," says Oyen.