Computational Seeding of Bio-Receptive Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Bartlett Sch of Architecture

Abstract

Computational Seeding of Bio-Receptive Materials is an interdisciplinary research proposal that brings together a design team with high expertise in architecture, biology and engineering. It aims to develop an innovative wall-panel system capable of growing microorganisms directly on its surface. By utilizing novel design engineering methods the research seeks to improve facade performance through the implementation of a new type of biologically receptive concrete. This system intends to overcome many of the limitations of existing green walls, particularly the need for mechanical irrigation systems and expensive maintenance.

This proposal responds to the urgency of improving the environmental quality of our cities. Climate change, increasing levels of pollution, and the loss of pervious surfaces within the urban fabric, has resulted in an ongoing effort of making our cities greener and more sustainable, especially in the developed world. Building envelopes, in particular roofs and facades, have been targeted as an opportunity for greening. However, current 'green walls' have proven expensive to implement and manage. This notion of 'greening' has also failed to address the increasing loss of cryptogamic cover surfaces (algae, mosses, lichens, etc.), which due to their scale have passed rather unnoticed in our cities.

In response, biologically receptive cementitious materials have been studied and chemically altered to provide pH levels, porosity values and water retention properties that are favourable for microorganisms to establish and proliferate. The adoption of biologically receptive concrete as a means of fostering green growth has the potential for the building's façade itself to become the biological substratum for the growth of photosynthetic systems.

Planned Impact

Computational Seeding of Bio-Receptive Materials is designed to deliver wide-ranging impact:
- Societal (general public and policy makers): Increasing green surfaces in the built environment, improving the environmental quality of our cities and enhanced quality of life.
- Academic: Creation of knowledge through design engineering and scientific testing of biological/environmental material performances, feeding into parallel areas of research.
- Economic (industry and government): Design and development of novel processes are anticipated to lead to commercialisable products, fostering economic performance and competitiveness, while improving efficiencies in cost and maintenance for diverse stakeholders.
- People: Develop a team with world-leading expertise in design, engineering and biology/environment working at the interface of a broad range of disciplines and with strong industry partnerships.

Publications

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Cruz M (2016) Bioreceptive design: a novel approach to biodigital materiality in Architectural Research Quarterly

 
Title Bioreceptive components 
Description 2 bioreceptive concrete panels for 'Nature' - Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial at the Cube Gallery in the Netherlands. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact High-profile exhibition that will disseminate the work to a wide audience in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium 
 
Title Bioreceptive components 
Description 2 bioreceptive concrete panels for the 'Nature' - Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial at the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact High-profile exhibition in New York in which the work is being disseminated to a very wide audience. 
 
Title Bioreceptive concrete panels 
Description 18 concrete panels - 9 MPC and 9 OPC - were build with a standard size of 500mm x 1500mm each. Each of the 9 groups were built according to three different geometries including a Vertical (Curtain) - Horizontal/Diagonal (Baroque) - Scattered infolds (Poche') types. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The uniqueness and expressive power of the panels was evident from the overwhelmingly positive responses we got from the general public that saw the panels located at the Bartlett and in exhibitions such as Ecobuild in London. In addition, bioreceptive growth was visible on the OPC panels, which was a proof of how the geometric surface variance can promote algae and moss proliferation in certain cavities in such short period of time. 
 
Description Extensive geometric studies have created a large portfolio of design possibilities for OPC and MPC panels, which have different material and bioreceptive properties. One of the most important results from the research was the proven role of this geometric variance of the surface morphology of panels in promoting bioreceptive growth. The OPC panels had some visible occurrence of algae and moss growth after only a few months of external exposure, which was due to the water retention on infolding cavities of some of the panels. But further research is required to test the impact of specific geometries on the panels. A further finding of the research is related to the industrial fabrication process of bioreceptive panels, in which a mixed technique of sprayed GRC concrete on cast MPC is now possible, making the future production of bioreceptive panels much more cost effective.
Exploitation Route We aim to publish in coming months all the findings via articles in peer-reviewed journals
Sectors Construction,Environment

 
Title Data collection and data analysis of bioreceptive panels 
Description A robotic photographic survey of all eighteen panels was done from a fixed vantage-point in regular intervals of two weeks. At the same time, large-scale "rough-cut" panoramas were regularly taken. The survey used high-resolution digital images to achieve a spatial-resolution >2 pixels/mm with a colour calibration target. 65 surveys were made by 30th April 2017. Sub-surface temperature measurements were made in all eighteen bioreceptive panels, both MPC and OPC. MPC panels had core temperature measurement in two further locations. Measurements were continuously recorded at regular intervals from these 36 temperature channels. Thermography surveys were also made, providing some comparative data between MPC and OPC panel surface temperature on sample days. Data was regularly collected from the Automatic Weather Station (AWS) data logger, Volumetric Water Sensors (VWS) logger, MPC/OPC panel temperature and water run-off instrument logger, and all consolidated into a database. Two 3D LiDAR surveys were carried out on the panels, the point-clouds were coordinated with the photographic survey and analysed for vertical rain catchment area. Changes at the panel surface of the MPC material were observed with a colour variation from browning to whitening of the material surface. The database was analysed using MatLab. Additionally, a wind-speed and wind-direction frequency distribution analysis was done on the AWS data for comparison with prevailing norms for London based on Section 2 of the BS 7770:1995 Preparation of climatic data for buildings. Initial data-reduction of the consolidated database was done, the first analysis has been on differences between diurnal and seasonal fluctuations in temperature between OPC and MPC panels. This was aimed at establishing the effects of solar heating comparatively based on the observed stagnation temperature. Further research on the evaporative performance of the material porosity was done with the use of COMSOL simulations to compare small panels computationally with small panels exposed outdoors. These panels were part of an observation study to monitor water content with three Volumetric Water Sensors (VWS). This data was coordinated with 12 % relative humidity measurement within the panels together with mass-measurement from three electronic balances. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The photographic survey proved to be a very efficient and easy way to observe the gradual physiological changes of the panels throughout the 12 months exposure. But all the additional data concerning thermal variance inside and outside the panels, as well as impact of wind and humidity levels remain to be understood in relation to the overall material performance of the panels, the specific location, lack of surrounding vegetation, etc. All recorded data is nonetheless very important for future comparative tests. 
 
Title Design and geometry analysis of bioreceptive panels 
Description The classification of different tree barks was used as a starting point for the creation of over 30 three-dimensional computational models. Numerous geometric options were classified in a chart according to different types of surface morphologies. In addition, 15 3D prints were produced to study panel designs. From the study three different geometries were selected for fabrication, allowing for a comparative analysis of different surface morphologies. The built panels included the following types: Vertical (Curtain) - Horizontal/Diagonal (Baroque) - Scattered infolds (Poche') 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact One of the most important results from the entire research was the proven role of geometric variance of surface morphology in promoting bioreceptive growth. Although this was not visible during on the MPC panels the 12 months , the OPC panels had some visible occurrence of algae and moss growth, which was due to the water retention on infolding cavities of some of the panels. This was mostly evident in the Baroque and Poche' geometric types. But further research is required to test the impact of different geometries on the panels. 
 
Title Environmental monitoring and In-situ testing - chemistry of water run-offs and material strength 
Description The observed coloration of water collected from MPC panel run-offs prompted the need to chemically analyse the water to get a better understanding of how the material integrity developed throughout the 18 months. Additional material tests were carried out that included: flexural and compressive strength; freeze thaw resistance; and fixing pull out resistance. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The water tests showed a substantial presence of Suspended Solids, Phosphorus, and Ortho Phosphate, as well as Ammoniacal Nitrogen, which suggest that either impurities or non-cured material was being washed out of the panels. The freeze thaw resistance test of the MPC showed that it didn't perform well when compared with OPC used in the panels; but the MPC mix improved in terms of flexural and compressive strength over the 21 days of testing.; the fixing pull out resistance test gave us a value that will be important for future comparisons with other equivalent materials. 
 
Title Environmental monitoring and In-situ testing - growth and biomass 
Description A comparable test of potential algae proliferation was done between different material samples and panels: 1) in Lab (80x80mm) - seeded and maintained with high relative humidity; 3) outdoor (200x200mm) - seeded and irrigated; 4) outdoor (500x1500mm) - seeded. This study was a first attempt to understand the complementary relationship between seeding process; "nursery" period (with regular irrigation); and moment of exposure in specific time of the year. In addition, a community dynamics test was done to compare the evolution of the microbial community when submitted to three different conditions: 1) in Lab (liquid cultures of individual and mix communities); 2) in Lab (80x80mm) - seeded and maintained with high relative humidity; 3) outdoor (200x200mm) - seeded and irrigated to maintain the panels wet; 4) outdoor (500x1500mm) - seeded. This test was carried out by means of metagenomics in which samples were collected at 4 different times. Moreover, data of the molecular analysis were analysed by bioinformatics, allowing for the characterization of microbial biodiversity after one year of exposure of 14 exposed points/samples. A further biofouling test was done on different small-scale panels. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact All the tests were rather inconclusive as there was hardly any growth evidence on the MPC panels during the research process. The 12 months of exposure were simply too short to understand the bioreceptive potential of MPC panels. More exhaustive analysis is required to understand the influence of time in promoting bioreceptivity, as well as how the the occurrence of struvites and boric acid crystals observed on the MPC panel surfaces has inhibited growth on the panels in this first period. 
 
Title Environmental monitoring and in-situ testing of bioreceptive panels outdoors - run-offs 
Description A total of eighteen panels, arranged randomly in a three-by-three experimental unit-by-group were exposed to 335-days of prevailing meteorological conditions in an urban environmental context measured by an on-site Automatic Weather Station (AWS). The panels were located at the Bartlett School of Architecture courtyard on 140 Hampstead Road, mounted at first-storey height representative of a north-facing façade with partial sheltering to the South and West. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This study established a clear difference between the material perfomativity in terms of water retention of each of the three panel geometries. The Baroque panel was mostly water absorbent and had the least amount of water run-off due to the biggest panel surface and horizontal/diagonal geometry, while the curtain type had the biggest amount of water run-offs due to its vertical geometry and smallest panel surface. 
 
Title Fabrication of test geometries and lab preparation of species 
Description Different algae and moss species were selected according to literature. The algae species selected were Chlorella vulgaris, Chlorella sorokiniana, Scenedesmus sp., Rhodomonas sp., Chroomonas sp. and Oscillatoria sp. in order to understand the viability of working with motile, non-motile and filamentous species. Those species were grown under laboratory conditions individually to understand the growth rate of each of the species and the possibility of producing mix cultures. Regarding the moss species, the ones selected and collected from the local area were Bryum capillare, Tortula muralis, Grimmia pulvinata, Hypnum cupressiforme, Trichostomum sp. and Homalotecium sericeum. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The choice of algae and moss species was inconclusive due to the nearly existent growth on the panels during the 12 months of external exposure. 
 
Title Mould Fabrication and concrete casting 
Description 3D data sets were exported from various CAD packages and processed for 3 axis milling on a PACER 615 HDs using Delcam Software. Positive geometries were milled in Sika Block foam defined as suitable for good surface detail and durability during the mould making process. The milling process developed optimised strategies to minimise machining time for the macro scale geometries and exploited the use of bespoke tool path definitions to define meso scale geometries. The negative moulds were cast in GRC fleximould, a rubber type suitably durable for multi concrete casts (10+) before deterioration, with the aim to lower the overall cost of fabrication. In addition, 18 medium scale panels (3x3) were built. Due to the potential leaching effect of OPC on MPC, 9 bioreceptive panels were cast exclusively out of MPC. Further material tests with different aggregate sizes were conducted to create multi-material casts that promoted water absorption, retention and distribution. Two different aggregates sizes of MPC were chosen with a more course aggregate mix in the back to promote a quicker flow of water to be absorbed by the finer one in the front. Instead of using panels with an applied biocidal film, we decided to build the other 9 panels out of OPC to compare both material properties. All panels were seeded with algae, and half of each with a moss shake. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The mould and casting process has proven to be effective for the research, but too time consuming and expensive for future industrialization. Collaborations with our industrial partner, Laing O'Rourke, have led to an alternative construction method in which GRC concrete was sprayed onto a cast MPC layer, which made the process much quicker and the panels thinner. This process was an important step to make the fabrication of the panels industrially viable in the future. 
 
Description Collaboration with Tranport for London 
Organisation Transport for London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Following contacts with Transport for London (TfL) during the Ecobuild exhibition in March 2016, we started developing a pilot project of a bioreceptive wall for the disused platform of East Putney Station. We contributed with our research know how to TfL's aim to find and implement alternative green infrastructures for London Underground. The main objective of the bioreceptive wall is to create environmental and acoustic benefits for the users and neighbours of the station.
Collaborator Contribution Trasnport for London (Tfl) offered the disused platform of East Putney Station and contracted Skanska to build the structure on which the bioreceptive panels will be fixed. TfL is also cleaning the platform for the installation of the panels, as well as granting the research team a regular access to monitor the panels.
Impact This collaboration is still ongoing. The real impact will only be measurable once the bioreceptive wall is installed.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Press coverage / interview in Houzz 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 'BiotA Lab and Bioreceptive Design' was discussed in the article 'World of Design: The Joy of Moss and Its Modern Uses' in Houzz, a website and online community about architecture, interior design and decorating, landscape design and home improvement. The interview was done by Annie Thornton, 24.03.2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description ECOBUILD: Trade Fair exhibition and presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact ECOBUILD, Excell Centre London (7th-9th March 2017): small components were exhibited at the Future Materials and Processes exhibition (organizer: ARCC Network), as well as presented at the 'Processes and Manufacturing Session' (Marcos Cruz, 9.03.17, Auditorium: BRE Academy Stand).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description ECOBUILD: Trade Fair exhibition and presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact ECOBUILD, Excell Centre London (8th-10th of March 2016): several bioreceptive panels and components were exhibited at the BiotA Lab showroom (organizer: BiotA Lab UCL, Stand: E3115), as well as presented at the 'Materials Afternoon Session / Big Idea Session' (Marcos Cruz, 9.03.16, Auditorium: Build Circular). This exhibition was used to address the key aspect of how to 'win the hearts and minds of people' as stated in the proposal. On-going conversations with various stakeholders, as well as a survey helped evaluating public response to the main proposition of research and aesthetic appeal of panels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation at TfL 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Bioreceptive Design research was presented at a special event to a wide range of specialists from Transport for London (TfL) in London. The presentation was made by Marcos Cruz, Richard Beckett and Michael Pelken from our industrial partner Laing O'Rourke (28.04.2016).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Press coverage / article in Building Design 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Bioreceptive Design was discussed and illustrated in the article 'Reinventing the green wall' in Building Design, one of the most influential architecture magazines and online forum that reaches out to thousands of architects and architecture practices in the UK. The article was written by Amanda Birch (25.04.2016).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Press coverage / article in LS:N 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BiotA Lab and Bioreceptive Design research discussed in LS:N Global, a subscription-based online platform that documents new consumer behaviour and key industry trends to give business professionals the confidence to make informed decisions about the future. The article was written by Marcos Cruz and Richard Beckett (12.02.2016).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Press coverage in Süddeutsche Zeitung 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Bioreceptive Design research mentioned and illustrated in article 'Moos' in Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's most important daily newspapers. The article was written by Jakob Michael (2.03.16).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Public presentation at societal forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation of 'The potential of encouraging biological growth on cementitious materials' at Inter-Défis sociétaux in Ales, France, a multi-disciplinary research forum that aims to encourage the creation of innovative solutions that respond to major societal challenges such as health, length and quality of life; sustainable management of resources; eco-materials and the life cycle of materials; risks, security and security and crises. The presentation was done by Sandra Manso (24.11.2016).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description SUPER MATERIALS public exhibition and presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact SUPER MATERIALS, Building Centre, Store Street, London (2nd February - 22nd April 2017): several bioreceptive panels were exhibited as part of a group show that focused on innovative and cutting edge materials (organizer: The Building Centre), as well as presented at a panel discussion (by Richard Beckett, 7.03.17)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017