Elon Musk’s Boring Company to sell life-size ‘LEGO-like’ bricks dug from the earth

March 27, 2018 by  
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People signed up in droves to buy hats and flamethrowers from The Boring Company , and founder Elon Musk isn’t stopping there. He just announced his latest idea on Twitter : kits of massive interlocking bricks made from tunneling rock . The first kit will be inspired by ancient Egypt — think pyramids or a Sphinx. New Boring Company merch coming soon. Lifesize LEGO-like interlocking bricks made from tunneling rock that you can use to create sculptures & buildings. Rated for California seismic loads, so super strong, but bored in the middle, like an aircraft wing spar, so not heavy. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 26, 2018 LEGO -like bricks could be the next merchandise out of The Boring Company . Musk said the life-size building materials would be strong enough to stand up to a California earthquake, but not heavy, as they’ll be “bored in the middle.” Ever wanted a Temple of Horus in your backyard? Maybe The Boring Company’s kits could make that possible. First kit set will be ancient Egypt — pyramids, Sphinx, temple of Horus, etc — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 26, 2018 Related: You can now buy your own Elon Musk ‘Boring Company’ flamethrower Musk didn’t specify the dimensions of the bricks or structures created with the kits on Twitter. But when asked if these bricks could be utilized for affordable housing , he said the bricks feature “a precise surface finish” and two people could erect a small house’s outer walls in around one day with the materials. When asked about environmental impact, Musk said , “Uhh, it’s literally made of rock.” Further details are still thin — like price or when the kits might be available for purchase — but Musk did say they plan to ship them around the world. And they said I’d never be a rock star … — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 27, 2018 The Verge pointed out The Boring Company has been considering what do to with excavated dirt for a while — the company’s Frequently Asked Questions page said they are “investigating technologies that will recycle the earth into useful bricks to be used to build structures.” They even cited the pyramids as inspiration. Musk has raked in millions of dollars from Boring Company merchandise already. If the flamethrowers and hats were any indication, he could sell thousands of these kit sets as well. + Elon Musk Twitter Via The Verge Images via The Boring Company and Wikimedia Commons

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Elon Musk’s Boring Company to sell life-size ‘LEGO-like’ bricks dug from the earth

New nanowood insulation is more environmentally friendly than Styrofoam

March 14, 2018 by  
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Scientists have created a new insulating material from wood that bests Styrofoam : it’s “stronger and much more environmentally friendly,” according to the University of Maryland (UMD). Their material , called nanowood, can come in thin, flexible pieces or in blocks — take a closer look after the jump. The UMD -led team created nanowood by removing lignin, a substance in wood that keeps it rigid and brown. They also took out some short fibers “that tangle themselves in with the cellulose fibers that make up the scaffolding-like base structure of the wood,” according to the university. “The aligned cellulose fibers then bond with each other and results in a high mechanical strength.” Related: Incredible new “super wood” is as strong as steel When the team attempted to crush the nanowood, they discovered in one direction the material was 30 times stronger than thermal insulation materials like Styrofoam or aerogel. When testing how well nanowood insulates, they found it blocked a minimum of 10 degrees more heat than a Guinness World Record honoree for best insulator, silica aerogel, as well as Styrofoam. And while wool or glass insulators can irritate lung tissues or incite allergic reactions, according to UMD, nanowood’s fibers don’t cause those issues. UMD postdoctoral student Tian Li said of nanowood in the statement, “This can insulate better than most other current thermal insulators, including Styrofoam. It is extremely promising to be used as energy efficient building materials.” The journal Science Advances published the research earlier this month. Scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden contributed. UMD said Inventwood , a spinoff company from the research group of Liangbing Hu, UMD associate professor involved in this research, is commercializing wood-based nanotechnologies. Hu said in the statement his research program “experiments with nature’s nanotechnology that we see in wood.” Inventwood’s website lists transparent wood and clear paper among their technologies. + University of Maryland + Science Advances Images via the University of Maryland

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New nanowood insulation is more environmentally friendly than Styrofoam

Amazing new biodegradable insulation only burns after one-hour of fire exposure

February 27, 2018 by  
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100 percent natural insulation from Chilean company Rootman is also resistant to flames, according to ArchDaily . Rootman’s product, Thermoroot, absorbs sound and provides optimal thermal performance — and, according to its designers, the sustainable insulation only starts burning 60 minutes of fire exposure. That’s in contrast to polystyrene , fiberglass, or polyurethane, which will start burning in three seconds, 15 seconds, or one minute, respectively. With the goal of insulating buildings more efficiently, Rootman created Thermoroot, which they say is biodegradable , comprised of 100 percent natural fiber, and won’t harm the environment . They basically grow what they call a Radicular Mattress; in isolated chambers, they hydroponically cultivate oat or barley grain seeds in trays that, according to ArchDaily, “define the required thickness of the roots ” to create the mattress. The process takes between 10 and 15 days, and Rootman doesn’t employ chemical additives or draw on genetic modifications. Related: Hemp-based insulation makes a comeback in Belgium The germination process can happen in any geographical location or climate, according to ArchDaily. It boasts a low water and carbon footprint, doesn’t pollute, and trees don’t need to be cut down for the process. And in case of a fire, the green insulation offers a one-hour window before it burns. Thermoroot can entirely replace conventional insulators like Mineral Wool, Expanded Polystyrene, or Polyurethane, according to ArchDaily, thermally and acoustically insulating floors, ceilings, or walls. The publication said Rootman is working to offer an effective alternative for expensive natural insulators and synthetic insulators that are harmful for health and the environment. If you’d like more information, Rootman includes links to a technical information PDF, certification of sound absorption, a thermal conductivity certification, and a firefighters’ technical report on their website; you can find those here . The company also says their technology could serve as “a soil improver for the garden and agriculture .” + Rootman Via ArchDaily Images via Rootman SpA/ArchDaily

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Gorgeous roof garden feeds owners in proposed off-grid Yin & Yang House

February 27, 2018 by  
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Architecture studio Penda unveiled designs for an off-grid home Kassel, Germany with a stunning rooftop garden . Commissioned by a young family who wants to produce most of their own food, the Yin & Yang house features a minimal timber structure with a terraced roof curved in a shape evocative of the yin yang symbol. As shown in the startlingly realistic renderings, Yin & Yang House occupies a small corner lot. With very little ground space for a garden, Penda turned the roof into two terraced garden spaces to meet the client’s desires for a space to grow fruit, vegetables, and herbs. Rainwater will be collected on the roof and used for irrigation. Related: Trees to grow on the balconies of Penda’s timber high-rise in Toronto The eye-catching and seasonally changing roof is balanced by the building’s minimalist and boxy timber form. The two-story home features a garage, office space, kids’ bedroom, bathroom, master bedroom, and the kitchen and dining area on the ground floor, while the second floor includes additional sitting areas and a secondary workspace accessible by two separate staircases. Large windows let in natural light and views of the outdoors, with beautiful views of the terraced roof garden from the second floor spaces. + Penda Via Dezeen

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Gorgeous roof garden feeds owners in proposed off-grid Yin & Yang House

redhouse studio is making a mobile machine that recycles old buildings

January 25, 2018 by  
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Did you know that buildings are responsible for 39 percent of the United States’ carbon emissions? Architect Chris Maurer of redhouse studio told Inhabitat he loves being an architect, but finds it difficult to reconcile that figure. To help lighten the construction industry’s footprint, Maurer is teaming up with NASA , MIT , and the University of Akron to create the Biocycler: a mobile machine that literally recycles old buildings. The machine will use living organisms, not glue, to bind construction waste into durable bricks that can be used to build brand new structures. Read on for a closer look at this groundbreaking project. Maurer was inspired to create the Biocycler in part through his experience at demolition sites throughout Cleveland. “We do many projects that are adaptive reuse to preserve old buildings, but even then the demolition waste can be quite extensive,” he said. During a design/re-build project at Kent State University, the team was dismayed at how much waste their preservation project produced. “We dropped the material ourselves at the landfill ,” Maurer said. “It was hard to do (it was hard to see it all go to waste) but there was no economically feasible way to use the materials.” Related: New self-healing concrete uses fungus to fix cracks The Biocycler could change all that. redhouse plans to experiment with fungal mycelium and calcite-producing microbes as building and binding materials in the Biocycler. Maurer explains that “A symbiosis of the microbes and fungi can be made to feed each other and [they] are working towards using the microbes as bio-signals to tell us things about the structure and air-quality within it.” The incorporation of fruiting fungus (i.e. mushrooms) could serve the additional purpose of food production. “Where food security is an issue, we are looking to make mushroom production the main activity and the bio-materials the secondary output,” he said. redhouse studio is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the construction of a proof of concept. “Truth be told, we’re already recycling buildings, or at least materials,” said Maurer. “The kickstarter will lead to a mobile unit to put these processes on display and get closer to building entire structures out of the waste.” redhouse has already constructed and tested bricks and panels from recycled materials, as well as some model prototypes, and hopes to complete a full-size structure in 2018. Related: Church built for $35k stays naturally cool in Malawi Prior to starting the Cleveland-based studio in 2014, Maurer served as director for studioMDA in Malawi and MASS Design Group in Rwanda, where he came to more fully understand the value and potential of sustainable design. “[In Africa], we needed to innovate with limited resources,” said Maurer. Related: This company wants to turn food waste into building materials — here’s how redhouse has worked for commercial clients, such as the Hulett Hotel in Cleveland , while also developing humanitarian design projects, such as the Bioshelter , a prefabricated home that mitigates waste while providing food security and economic opportunity through crops grown on-site. As with much of the studio’s work, the Bioshelter was conceived to be as self-sustaining as possible. “We are constantly looking for new resource loops, finding benefits to waste streams,” he said. Change can sometimes be uncomfortable for the mainstream consumer, particularly if it includes the words “fungus” and “microbe.” Nonetheless, Maurer believes the time has come for fresh, green solutions to global problems. “Think about the pro-biotic craze right now,” he said. “People are waking up to the fact that antibiotic medicines and sanitizers can be dangerous, and that you want the right kinds of microbes around.” Similarly, biological building materials can also be pro-biotic. “There are many organisms that can be used in bio-materials that naturally battle pathogens,” he said. “We want them on our team.” Related: These amazing zero-waste buildings were grown from mushrooms To complete a project as ambitious as the Biocycler, collaboration is key. “ Architecture is by nature collaborative,” said Maurer. “Through our network in biomimicry, we’ve learned the advantages of working with biologists in addition to engineers.” redhouse is collaborating with scientists at NASA and MIT to create the Biocycler, which may only be the beginning of a revolution in smart, living building materials. “When you consider all the possibilities of the materials – bio-luminescence, radiation protection, self cleaning, pathogen protection, etc, it sounds sci-fi, but we’re not that far out from some of these features,” he said. With a Biocycler proof of concept in action, redhouse will have taken us another step further into this sustainable, bio-future. + The Biocycler on Kickstarter + redhouse studio Images via Keith Hayes/redhouse studio

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Researchers develop self-healing concrete powered by fungus

January 19, 2018 by  
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Scientists at Binghamton University have developed the first application of fungi in self-healing concrete. In a paper recently published in the journal Construction and Building Materials , Binghamton University assistant professor Congrui Jin and her team outline the ways in which a special species of fungi,  Trichoderma reesei , may act as a sealing agent when mixed with concrete . “This idea was originally inspired by the miraculous ability of the human body to heal itself of cuts, bruises and broken bones,” said Jin in an interview at Binghampton . “For the damaged skins and tissues, the host will take in nutrients that can produce new substitutes to heal the damaged parts.” Jin and her team’s focus on concrete could not be more topical. In the United States , a crisis fueled by historic underinvestment in infrastructure has resulted in increasingly dangerous roads, bridges, and highways. While Washington struggles to fund the federal government and state governments lack the resources to tackle this multi-trillion dollar problem, citizens still want something to be done before a major collapse occurs. “Without proper treatment, cracks tend to progress further and eventually require costly repair,” said Jin . “If micro-cracks expand and reach the steel reinforcement, not only the concrete will be attacked, but also the reinforcement will be corroded, as it is exposed to water, oxygen, possibly CO2 and chlorides, leading to structural failure.” Related: How fungi made Earth’s atmosphere livable – new study If concrete were easier to repair, the cost of infrastructure maintenance would likely decrease. This is where T. reesei steps in. The fungus is mixed with concrete and lies dormant until the first crack in newly laid concrete appears. As water and oxygen permeate the crack, fungal spores will germinate, expand, and create calcium carbonate to fill the crack. While the technology is still in its early phase, its successful small-scale application demonstrates that fungal self-healing concrete may fit right in someday soon. Jin said , “In my opinion, further investigation in alternative microorganisms such as fungi and yeasts for the application of self-healing concrete becomes of great potential importance”. Via Binghamton University Images via Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University and Congrui Jin/Binghamton University

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MIT students develop method to reinforce concrete using plastic bottles

October 26, 2017 by  
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Americans consume 8.6 billion water bottles — every year. Of those, only 1 of 5 is recycled . Fortunately, a handful of MIT students have developed a solution to this problem, and it involves repurposing waste plastic bottles to reinforce concrete. Because the newly-invented method results in the concrete being more durable than existing concrete, plastic bottles may soon be used to construct everything from stronger building foundations to sidewalks and street barriers. According to the study , which was published in the journal Waste Management, MIT students discovered a method to produce concrete that is up to 20 percent stronger than conventional concrete. First, plastic flakes are exposed to small amounts of harmless gamma radiation . Then, they are pulverized into a fine powder, after which it is added to concrete. The discovery has far-reaching implications, as concrete is the second most widely used material on Earth (the first is water). MIT News reports that approximately 4.5 percent of the world’s human-induced carbon emissions are generated by manufacturing concrete. By replacing small portions of concrete with recycled plastic, the cement industry’s toll on the environment would be reduced. The newly-discovered method would also prevent millions of water and soda bottles from ending up in landfills . Michael Short, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, said, “There is a huge amount of plastic that is landfilled every year. Our technology takes plastic out of the landfill, locks it up in concrete, and also uses less cement to make the concrete, which makes fewer carbon dioxide emissions. This has the potential to pull plastic landfill waste out of the landfill and into buildings, where it could actually help to make them stronger.” Related: MIT battery that inhales and exhales air can store power for months MIT students Carolyn Schaefer and Michael Ortega explored the possibility of plastic-reinforced concrete as part of their class’s Nuclear Systems Design Project. In the future, the team intends to experiment with different types of plastic , along with various doses of gamma radiation, to determine their effects on concrete. So far, they’ve determined that substituting 1.5 percent of concrete with irradiated plastic significantly improves the mixture’s strength. While this may not seem like a lot, it is enough to have a significant impact if implemented on a global scale. “Concrete produces about 4.5 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions,” said Short. “Take out 1.5 percent of that, and you’re already talking about 0.0675 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. That’s a huge amount of greenhouse gases in one fell swoop.”’’ Via MIT News Images via MIT , Pixabay

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MIT students develop method to reinforce concrete using plastic bottles

New concrete roof includes thin-film PV cells to generate power

October 20, 2017 by  
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Digital design and fabrication techniques allowed researchers in Switzerland to create a curvy, super thin concrete roof that will one day help a residential unit produce more power than it consumes. Using the innovative methods, the researchers assembled the roof with much less materials than would otherwise be needed. The concrete roof is also equipped with thin-film photovoltaic cells to generate energy. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) recently unveiled the prototype for a sinuous, self-supporting concrete roof. The roof is comprised of multiple layers, including concrete , heating and cooling coils, insulation, and more concrete fitted with thin film solar cells. The prototype was around 25-feet-tall, with a surface area of around 1,722 feet squared. The average thickness of the concrete was around two inches; the support surfaces had a thickness of 4.7 inches and the edges of the roof were just around one inch thick. Related: The company that offered integrated solar roofs before Elon Musk A cable net supporting a polymer textile provided the formwork for the concrete roof. The researchers used a precise concrete mix, fluid enough to be sprayed but firm enough to not flow off. Professor of Architecture and Structures Philippe Block said in a statement, “We’ve shown that it’s possible to build an exciting thin concrete shell structure using a lightweight, flexible formwork, thus demonstrating that complex concrete structures can be formed without wasting large amounts of material for their construction.” The prototype has already been dismantled to make room for other experiments, but in 2018, the roof will be erected atop materials science and technology research institute Empa ‘s HiLo Penthouse. Guest faculty will live and work in the penthouse, which is expected to produce more energy that it uses thanks to the concrete roof’s solar cells and what ETH Zurich described as an adaptive solar facade . Via ETH Zurich Images © Block Research Group, ETH Zurich/Michael Lyrenmann and © Block Research Group, ETH Zurich/Naida Iljazovic

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These Dutch designers are harvesting stardust from rooftops

October 10, 2017 by  
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Did you know that 37,000 to 78,000 tons of stardust falls on the earth’s surface every year? The dust is made up of micrometeorites that make it through the earth’s atmosphere – and now two Dutch designers are collecting this rare material from rooftops in the Netherlands. Kirstie van Noot and Xandra van der Eijk are exploring ways to utilize these mini meteorites as a precious resource that literally falls from the sky. Kirstie and Xandra believe that stardust could become a new resource for a world that is quickly using up its own natural resources: “As terrestrial resources are depleting and rare earth metals are arguably indispensable for our way of life and our survival as a species, we are in dire need of alternatives,” explains van Noot in her website. To salvage stardust, the pair first collects matter from the rain gutters and roofs of houses. They then incinerate the matter and use magnets to pull out particles for inspection. By studying the shape and composition of these particles, the pair is able to identify which ones came from outer space. The designers recently displayed their star dust exhibition, “As above, so below” at this year’s London Design Festival. The exhibition included the star dust itself as well as a solid cube made of meteoric material. + Dutch Invertuals Collected + Kirstie van Noot + Xandra van der Eijk + London Design Week Coverage Photography by Ronald Smits Photography

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Alphabet X to beam wireless service to Puerto Rico with a fleet of balloons

October 10, 2017 by  
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Help is coming to Puerto Rico in the form of balloons. Alphabet X’s Project Loon — a former Google enterprise — recently received an emergency license from the FCC to equip the island with mobile data via high-altitude weather balloons. According to the FCC, 83 percent of Puerto Rico’s cell sites remain inoperable since Hurricane Maria — a category 4 storm — devastated the island. The US Virgin Islands hit by the same storm will also receive assistance. The next step for Alphabet X is to partner with a telecommunications service to bring the experimental service directly to the region, reports Engadget . A similar arrangement in March was tested in Peru earlier this year after extreme rains and flooding hit the nation. “We’re grateful for the support of the FCC and the Puerto Rican authorities as we work hard to see if it’s possible to use Loon balloons to bring emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need,” said Libby Leahy, a spokesperson for Alphabet X. “To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network—the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand. “ Related: Project Loon: Google to Test Balloon-Powered Internet in California’s Central Valley Gizmodo reports that Caribbean deployment is expected to take more time than the successful run in Peru. This is because X was already testing in Peru when the flooding struck. The company has until April 4, 2018 to fly the balloons. It is unknown how many territories will be covered by the experiment. Via Gizmodo , Engadget Images via Project Loon

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