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The use of biodegradable materials in architecture

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Biodegradable materials are materials that can be broken down, decomposed, and returned to the environment by natural processes, without causing harm. These materials can include things like wood, straw, and other natural fibers, as well as more modern materials like bioplastics and other polymers made from renewable resources. Biodegradable materials are an important part of the concept of sustainability, as they can help reduce the environmental impact of the built environment and other human activities.

These materials can be used for building walls, floors, and roofs, and can help to reduce the environmental impact of buildings. Additionally, biodegradable materials can help to create buildings that are more sustainable and have a smaller carbon footprint.


Some Biodegradable Materials are:

1. Bamboo:
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Bamboo is a highly sustainable and renewable resource that can be used as a structural material in architecture. It is strong, flexible, and can be grown quickly, making it a good alternative to traditional building materials like concrete and steel. Bamboo can be used to create structural beams, columns, and frameworks for buildings, and can also be used for cladding and decorative elements.

2. Adobe:
Image courtesy by - Nick Fox

Adobe is a type of biodegradable material that is made from a mixture of clay, sand, and straw. It is commonly used in the construction of walls and is a traditional building material in many parts of the world. Adobe is a sustainable and low-carbon alternative to traditional materials like concrete and brick and can help to reduce the environmental impact of buildings.

3. Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) That Uses Potato Starch:
Image courtesy by - Ilya Ivanov

It is a controversial material that has raised many questions over the years regarding its effects on both health and the environment. As MDF’s primary bonding adhesive uses the chemical, it cannot be recycled and the huge amount of MDF used in shop displays and furniture ends up in either landfill or the incinerator. To tackle the problem, new forms of medium density fibreboard have been studied by the University of Leicester that substitute the formaldehyde with a resin derived from potato starch.

4. Cork:
Image courtesy by - Wai Ming Ng

Cork is a very underrated material in the construction field. The harvesting process of cork does not cause any harm to the tree, as it is the bark that is removed. The bark regenerates every ten years. this specific layer of bark, usually on the cork oak tree. This layer, called the phellem layer, is composed of a hydrophobic (read: water-repelling) material that has unique characteristics: it is impermeable, buoyant, elastic, and fire-retardant.

5. Hemp:
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A strain of the Cannabis sativa plant, hemp is a promising material for buildings that has been similarly regulated, though it differs in several ways from the everyday variety. Roman engineers used its fibers to enhance the mortar for bridge abutments. The most familiar example is Hempcrete, a lightweight, cementitious composite made with woody fibers from the plant core, lime, and water that can come in modular blocks similar to concrete masonry units. Hempcrete should not be mistaken for reinforced concrete, as the materials is not structural, nor can it be used in foundations since the natural fibers will degrade with prolonged exposure to moisture.

6. Bioplastics:
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The amount of plastic waste generated daily is alarming and a cause for concern. The search for cleaner alternatives led to the development of Bioplastics. These are plastic materials produced from renewal BioSource's, such as vegetable oils and fats, corn starch, soybean, sawdust, woodchips, and recycled food waste. It can also be made from agricultural waste and used plastic waste. They break down at a faster rate than synthetic plastic and produce biomass at the same time. Although for now, the bioplastics are being experimented as containers and bags, they can shape the construction field shortly.

7. Mycelium:
Image courtesy by - Cecil Barnes V

Mycelium has risen in popularity, although its use is so far still limited to temporary pavilions or installations. Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungus, made up of hundreds of interwoven fibers produced by the spores which makes it an incredibly strong material when dried. If combined with farm waste in molds, the fungus culture forms organic bricks that can be used in construction that afterward decompose and return to the carbon cycle.



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