The University of Cape Town has made it possible for you to follow the yellow brick road in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way.
Yesterday, the University unveiled the world’s first ‘bio-brick’, engineered by civil engineering masters student Suzanne Lambert.
The main ingredient? Pee. Yep, urine can now be used to make building materials.
While this isn’t the first time that scientists have tried to make pee bricks, the former attempt, which happened in the United States, used a synthetic solution. The UCT bio bricks are considerably better for the environment, reports Business Insider.
Dr Dyllon Randall, Lambert’s supervisor and senior lecturer in water quality at UCT, explained that the “bio brick” is created through a natural process called microbial carbonate precipitation.
You can see Dr Dyllon Randall, civil engineering honour student Vukheta Mukhari, and civil engineering masters student Suzanne Lambert with the “bio bricks” below:
“It’s not unlike the way seashells are formed,” Randall said.
Parts of the urine are combined with loose sand and a bacteria to produce an enzyme called urease which breaks down the urine to produce calcium carbonate through a complex chemical reaction.
The calcium carbonate turns the sand into a type of cement. The bricks are then made in moulds at room temperature. Regular bricks are kiln fired at temperatures of around 1 400°C and produce large quantities of carbon dioxide. The bio bricks are therefore more environmentally friendly.
The strength of the bio-bricks would depend on client needs.
“If a client wanted a brick stronger than a 40% limestone brick, you would allow the bacteria to make the solid stronger by ‘growing’ it for longer,” said Randall.
Randal said, chemically speaking, urine is “liquid gold”.
He also said that 97% of the phosphorus present in the urine can be converted into calcium phosphate, the key ingredient in the fertilisers used for commercial farming worldwide.
“This is significant because the world’s natural phosphate reserves are running dry.”
Follow-up studies will be done to consider the logistics behind urine collection, transport and the brick making process, Randall said.
“At the moment we’re only dealing with urine collection from male urinals because that’s socially accepted. But what about the other half of the population?”
All urine is equal and liquid gold. Think about that next time you go to the loo.
Also, let it mellow, because our water-wise ways must continue.
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