Editorial Feature

What Role Could Biodegradable Materials Play in Building and Construction?

Industries around the globe are reevaluating their practices to incorporate environmentally friendly materials for a sustainable future. Traditionally, construction has been associated with resource-intensive processes and materials that contribute to environmental degradation, but biodegradable materials are revolutionizing building and construction in this regard.

This article discusses the role of biodegradable materials in building and construction and how building design can be made more circular using these materials.

Biodegradable Materials, Biodegradable Materials in Building and Construction, biodegradable building materials

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Why do we Need Biodegradable Materials in Construction?

Biodegradables are organic materials that can be decomposed via microbial activity and abiotic elements like oxygen, UV, temperature, etc. The main advantage of using biodegradable materials is due to their environmentally friendly nature since they can be decomposed into simpler organic materials that fade into the soil.

The idea of using biodegradable materials in construction may seem counterintuitive since conventional materials like steel and concrete have been used for a very long time, and they provide durability and longevity as well.

The problem with conventional materials is the environmental toll of extracting, processing, and disposing of them, which has prompted researchers to explore alternatives that align with the principles of sustainability.

Hence, for some time now, researchers have turned towards biodegradable materials derived from renewable sources like plant fibers, biopolymers, and agricultural waste and have the unique ability to break down naturally over time, minimizing the ecological impact associated with traditional building materials.

How Biodegradable Materials are Used

Biodegradable materials are designed to break down naturally over time, reducing the environmental impact associated with traditional construction materials. For instance, normal plastic is dangerous for the environment since it does not decompose for a very long time; however, biodegradable polymers derived from natural sources, such as cornstarch or sugarcane, can be used to create biodegradable plastics, which, over time, break down into harmless byproducts, reducing the amount of waste produced.

These plastics can be employed in various construction applications, including packaging, insulation, and temporary structures. Similarly, researchers are exploring biodegradable concrete alternatives to reduce the environmental impact of traditional concrete production, which is a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Recent Studies

Circular Design for Sustainable Building

In a recent study, researchers explored the transition to a Circular Economy (CE), focusing on making building designs more circular using biodegradable materials. In the study context, "circular design" does not refer to literal circular shapes but rather to a circular economy concept that involves designing, producing, and using goods with the intention of minimizing resource input, waste, emissions, and energy leakage by keeping materials and products in use for as long as possible through strategies such as recycling, and regeneration.

The study emphasizes the need to replace conventional linear building components with circular building components during maintenance and renovation to achieve sustainability goals. The Circular Kitchen (CIK) serves as an exemplary case, with four design variants including a 'Bio kitchen' utilizing biodegradable materials, a 'Reclaim! Kitchen' incorporating recycled content, a 'Life+ kitchen' optimizing the current design, and a 'Plug-and-Play (P&P) kitchen' featuring modular components for extended use.

Environmental design guidelines were developed based on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Material Flow Analysis (MFA), revealing that the modular P&P kitchen exhibits the least environmental impact and material consumption. The study underscores the importance of co-creation, integral redesign, and multifunctionality in achieving truly circular building components.

Straw-Based Biodegradable Insulation for Buildings

In another 2017 study, researchers focused on the role of biodegradable materials in building and construction, particularly in developing insulating materials. The study addresses replacing widely used polystyrene insulation with more sustainable alternatives. The research emphasizes the environmental advantages of utilizing biodegradable materials, specifically straw-based insulating panels bonded with casein glue.

The study explores the complexity of creating these panels and conducts physico-mechanical tests, including bulk density, thermal conductivity, stress at deformation, and flexural strength. Results indicate that using casein adhesive, a natural and biodegradable material, shows promise in creating stable and environmentally friendly straw-based insulation.

Challenges

The durability of biodegradable materials in diverse climatic conditions and their cost-effectiveness compared to traditional counterparts are big challenges. The cost of biodegradable materials, at present, can be a deterrent against widespread adoption. Government incentives and policies promoting sustainable construction practices could play a crucial role in making biodegradable materials more economically viable.

Conclusion

As the construction industry faces increasing scrutiny for its environmental impact, integrating biodegradable materials allows for creating more sustainable and circular building practices. The innovative use of these materials in construction can revolutionize the industry, aligning it with the principles of circular design and reducing its ecological footprint.

Recent studies put emphasis on the circular economy within the construction sector, advocating for circular designs that prioritize reuse, recycling, and regeneration. For example, the Circular Kitchen (CIK) features various design variants like the 'Bio kitchen' using biodegradable materials.

Despite challenges, ongoing research and technological advancements will produce a future where biodegradable materials play a central role in shaping the construction and building sector.

More from AZoBuild: The Most Common Uses of Ceramics in Construction

References and Further Reading

Christian Nathler (2023). Will Buildings in the Future Be Built From Mushrooms? Reset, Digital for Good. https://en.reset.org/mycelium-construction-material-benefit/

Prometheus Materials. (2023, January 27). A Coral-Inspired Organic Biocomposite to Replace Portland Cement. AZoBuild. Retrieved on December 17, 2023 from https://www.azobuild.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=8590

Sassi, P. (2006). Biodegradable building. Design and nature III: comparing design in nature with science and engineering. https://doi.org//10.2495/DN060091

Tůmová, E., Drochytka, R., Černý, V., & Čada, P. (2017). Development of organic and biodegradable insulating material for ETICS. Procedia engineering. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.proeng.2017.04.527

Van Stijn, A., Eberhardt, L. C. M., Jansen, B. W., & Meijer, A. (2020, November). Design guidelines for circular building components based on LCA and MFA: The case of the Circular Kitchen. In IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science. IOP Publishing. https://doi.org//10.1088/1755-1315/588/4/042045

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Taha Khan

Written by

Taha Khan

Taha graduated from HITEC University Taxila with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. During his studies, he worked on several research projects related to Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Robotics. After graduating, Taha worked as a Research Executive for 2 years at an IT company (Immentia). He has also worked as a freelance content creator at Lancerhop. In the meantime, Taha did his NEBOSH IGC certification and expanded his career opportunities.  

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