The Green Charcoal — Designing a closed-loop urban ecosystem

Shreyas More
Apr 7, 2018 · 5 min read

Innovation in cutting-edge technology and automated systems have a monumental impact on the urban advancements and way of life. Infrastructural growth, transportation system, artificial intelligence at residences, work-spaces, and hospitals provide a vital accessibility and assistance. These facilities are immensely dependent on electricity and fuel that is produced at a great cost to the environmental health. Unlike the symbiotic framework of nature, the 21st century urbanization is significantly independent of its surrounding context, leading to a catastrophic imbalance. The urban-ecology and technology must hence walk together.

Ecological framework

In the light of which, organisms and machines need to integrate to form a world which doesn’t see them as opposites but as one. This results in the intersection of design, biology, and technology, giving rise to the ‘Alter Nature’. The concept is led by a scientific approach to the creation of new materials where engineering and different technologies play a fundamental role in bettering nature. Although various forms of bio-inspired design are discussed by researchers and professionals in the field of sustainable architecture, the practical application of bio-mimicry is demonstrated by the small number of built case studies. However, there is a missing human touch from these built case studies, which do not showcase the complex ways in which materials influence how products function and affect the people’s experience. The proposal focuses on applying the principles inspired by the living systems and by growing new materials to envision people-centric natural urban habitat.

The framework for the application of biomimicry adapted from Pedersen Zari, 2007, informs that the five modes of biomimicry are interdependent and do not perform well in isolation.

Historic material references

In 400 B.C., the Ancient Hindus and Phoenicians had started using charcoal to purify water because of its antiseptic properties. Today activated carbon is used in a variety of industries, including corn and cane sugar refining, gas adsorption, dry cleaning, pharmaceuticals, fat, and oil removal, all on an industrial scale. 40 million years ago, the primitive, low-growing moss that absorbed carbon from the air, created topsoil for the first vascular plants, increased oxygen in the atmosphere to levels that endure today. Mosses act as an indicator of soil and water PH levels, retain water up to 30 times their weight, take up huge amounts of atmospheric CO2 and NO2 and balance the Earth.

The Green Charcoal Outline

“Designing an ecosystem with a seamless intersection of Alter Nature and material technology within city fabric, for a sustainable urban growth.”

The project investigates into de-polluting abilities of activated carbon and the oxygenating capacities of moss to develop a co-existing model that enables a positive environmental change. This symbiotic relationship generates pollution-free air and amplifies human connection with cities. The proposal highlights the context of existing construction techniques, work-in-progress in material research and prototypes, with their applications. The construction industry has been extensively using the modern concrete for the last 200 years because of its compressive strengths, flexibility, weather resistance and low cost. However, commercial manufacturing of concrete threatens the environment due to its substantial carbon footprint and poor capacity of re-use once buildings are demolished. Instead of replacing entire the legacy of this unsustainable material, The Green Charcoal finds ways to enhance its materiality with nature for a net-positive impact.

The scientific explanation of the net-positive co-existing system is explained as follows:

Pollution ‘adsorbing’ activated carbon-concrete mix

Adsorption is defined as deposition of particulate matter on a surface. Sulphur dioxide emissions are among the most common pollutants into the air. Concrete because of its porous nature acts as a sponge to adsorb the sulphur dioxide to a high level according to Alex Orlov, associate professor at Stony Brook University. In addition, the activated carbons are excellent adsorbents for NO2. Composites of the carbon-concrete are thus 18 times more effective in adsorbing the polluting gases according to 10th International Concrete Sustainability Conference (NRMCA), At Miami (USA)

Potential of moss — Sound absorbing panels made from natural, handpicked Scandinavian Reindeer Moss from Material ConneXion Library at ISDI, Mumbai

Pollution ‘absorbing’ moss for oxygenating cities

The deposition of SO2, NO2 from the surface of carbon-concrete and CO2 from the air is absorbed by the mosses and algae to generate abundant oxygen. This creates a closed-loop system that aligns with nature.

“Cities often think about tree planting budgets totally separately from their health budgets. We want cities to see the link between the two.”

The Green Charcoal modules — Cladding and Brick

The modules are casted in standard cladding and brick sizes to reduce the change in manufacturing process and installation. The cladding and bricks are fabricated with ideal porosity, PH value and carbon proportions. This is done in principle to the bio-adhesive which the moss produces to cling on any surface. The components will be built with integrated passive water circulation using the phenomenon of surface tension, gravity and distribution of material cavities.

Co-existence of the green charcoal ecosystem

The project is in the phase of material experimentation to understand performance and behavior to different external agents like humidity, heat, water and pollutants.

References

[1] Oxman, Neri. (2016, June 7) Neri Oxman Is Redesigning the Natural World. From http://www.surfacemag.com/articles/neri-oxman-material-ecology/

[2] Paluch, Magdalena and Becerra, Liliana. (2013, February 11) The Future of Materiality PART III: Alter Nature. From https://hellomaterialsblog.com/2013/02/11/the-future-of-materiality-part-iii-alter-nature/

[3] Zari, Maibritt. P. Biomimetic approaches to architectural design for increased sustainability. SB07 New Zealand. Paper Number: 033: 1. Print.

[4] Ashby Mike, Vincent Julian, Brownell Blaine, Edwards Kevin, Thompson Rob, Bramston David, Schodek Daniel, Chapman Jonathan, Zwaag Sybrand Van Der, Hekkert Paul, Vezzoli Carlo. Materials Experience — Fundamentals of Materials and Experience. (2013) Print.

[5] Lu, Rodger. (2014, February 9) The History of Activated Carbon. From https://www.jurassiccarbon.com/blogs/news/12186281-the-history-of-activated-carbon

[6] Radford, Tim. (2016, August 15) All hail the humble moss, bringer of oxygen and life to Earth. From https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/15/all-hail-the-humble-moss-bringer-of-oxygen-and-life-to-earth

[7] Orlov, Alex. ​​(2017, July 7) Could Concrete Help Solve the Problem of Air Pollution? From http://www.stonybrook.edu/happenings/research/concrete/

[8] Horgnies Matthieu, Dubois-Brugger Isabelle and Stora Eric (An Innovative Depolluting Concrete Doped with Activated Carbon to Enhance Air Quality). F-38291: 1,3

[9] Laura, Bliss (2016, Oct 31) The Big Green Payoff. From Bigger Urban Forests. From https://www.citylab.com/design/2016/10/the-big-green-payoff-from-bigger-urban-forests/505913/

Shreyas More

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Architect | Researcher of responsive environments and material science | Faculty and Researcher at ISDI | www.shreyasmore.in | www.isdi.in