Experimental Bio Materials

  A prototype of mycelium brick on a wood chip substratum © Chair of Structures and Structural Design  

Against the background of an increasing environmental awareness of the population, the demand for environmental-friendly and sustainable produced products have evolved to be one of the most important influences on the design and development of investment and consumer goods. This rethinking is especially in the building industry, with all of its massive environmental impact in form of energy and resource consumption, of high relevance. The building sector is one of the biggest consumers of raw-material -  about 30 – 50% of the overall consumption material in Europe, which lies between 1200 and 1800 million tons a year, are used for the establishment of new buildings and rehabilitation of existing construction.

5-10% of the overall power consumption of all EU-States are omitted to the production of building material. Therefor the substitution of conventional building material such as steel, with regenerative and bio-based resources depicts a promising alternative to reduce the use of resources and energy in the building sector and raise the recyclability of the building material.


Growth and construction in nature as role model for innovative technical solutions

Humans have always received inspiration from the variety of living things and formations of nature to expand their world of artefacts and products. Natural role models have had different ways of impact on the human world: Nature is imitated (mimesis), which means the way in which nature had designed living things and ‚constructed them is what served as a model to artifacts and products, to redesigned their world and lives in a more versatile and comfortable manner. Natural schemes of order and structure (basis), on what grounds natural structures form and build themselves, artificial systems are transferred. Furthermore, humans have been interested in the processes, with which things in nature are converted or how natural structures and systems are build or induced (genesis).


If nature served as a role model until now, to find technical approaches for human-made constructions and processes, we know today, that natural constructions and processes are highly efficient regarding use of material and function.


Viking ships, stave churches and conducted lime trees

Reconstruction of a viking ship (skudelev ship) with bend ‚knes‘ to attach beams Reconstruction of a viking ship (skudelev ship) with bend ‚knes‘ to attach beams

In the German-speaking area, especially Thuringia and Franconia, it was common during the medieval era to shape lime trees, which were planted in the town center as a symbol of a meeting point or a tribunal space, with the help of pillars and scaffoldings, to the branches to form a widened marquee, shade roof or a floor support structure. To make use of such a tree-floor of a shaped lime tree, planks and stairs were added (Graefe, 2014).


Shaped natural constructions and building elements made from shaped nature products

During the interdisciplinary research project TEPHA (Technical Product Harvesting) at the RWTH Aachen, biologists, ecologists, mechanical engineers and architects analyze the possibility of technical use of shaped plants and plant parts, for example in the production of cases, building elements and building constructions. Due to the shaping during the growth process bio-based semi-finished products result, that profit form the mechanism of natural topology optimization. Other advantages of such a production of semi-finished products lies within the climate considerate manufacture as well as the higher recyclability of the final product. For this purpose, plants like bamboo (Phyllostachys) and alder (Alnus), as well as lignifying fruit such as the calabash squash (Lagenaria siceraria), are brought into shape regarding experimental growth studies with the help of shapes in definite geometry.  After the growth period, the biomorphic body will lignify and can be transformed into a pressure-resistant and dimensionally stable semi-finished product. Mushrooms are in this context an additional element of observation with great implementation potential, since in comparison to other plants mushrooms have a extracellular matrix, which can growth three-dimensional in all directions. The mushroom matrix can therefore grow into any outer shape and be stabilized afterwards with the addition of resin or other rigidifying liquids.



growth manipulation of calabash © Chair of Structures and Structural Design growth manipulation of calabash

The direct and indirect reproduction of nature in artifacts and technical products is a human approach of long tradition. Nature orientated and inspired artefacts and construction distinguish themselves through their high efficiency regarding the use of material and its reached results.

Throughout the climate change, the reduction of the carbon footprint has reached explosive nature, which caused the dispute of natural genesis process in a scientific and systematic manner and their potential implementation in technology, to be of great importance. Next to a partially complex procedural Mimesis, the possibility lies in the influence of natural growth process, especially of plants, so that blank or semi-finished products of artefacts or technical objects or even full building construction can evolve. To do that, the natural growth of different possible plant must be analyzed, to predict the growth conditions under all influences. To extend this method the biomechanical knowledge must be expanded and combined with the simulation technology. A goal could be a new, sustainable world of products and artefacts close to nature, which may substitute energy efficient products with time.


Related Research

Fungal-based building materials

Research on  the technical foundations for applications of fungal mycelium in load bearing building components.

Tree growth experiment

A study of the tree species Paulownia Artemis to determine the influences that affect the geometry and resistance in its growth.

Growth Simulation

 A study to simulate the process of plant self-formation and both growth thicknesses and rings, based on a computational model.

Strand Woven Bamboo Finger Joint

High Strength Finger Joint usable in Strand Woven Bamboo of the 5th Generation