Bio-materials are building materials obtained from living organisms like Plants, Animals, Algae and Fungi. These are renewable forms of materials that have been used to generate sustainable construction solutions. Some examples of such materials are natural fibres like Bamboo, Wood, Hemp, and Strawbale; Fungal growth like Mycelium, Chitin, and Algae; and Polylactic Acid, A Bio-plastic made from Corn starch or sugarcane. There are several more, which are yet to fully evolve. Each of these materials can be used for different purposes and requirements of a project to adapt to the right surroundings to achieve sustainable design solutions.

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Relevance Of Sustainability In Modern Architecture And The Correspondance With Bio-materials

Sustainability is a paramount need in today’s architecture as we are undergoing environmental issues like climate change, global warming, and depletion of resources. Architects have acknowledged the need for designing buildings with decreased ecological footprints and an increase in the effectiveness and resilience of the design. This has led to the introduction of Bio-materials as they are renewable alternatives to construction materials. Bio-materials are eco-friendly, energy efficient and can bring about novelty to aesthetics and appeal of the design additionally catering to specific needs of the region’s climate.

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Exploring Natural Fibers

Natural Fibers include a diverse range of materials with characteristics suited to different needs in the construction process. Among the most widely used natural fibre is Bamboo which is used for structural elements, cladding and flooring. 

I) Bamboo 

Bamboo is known for its high tensile strength and its ability to withstand heavy loads and extreme weather conditions. Bamboo is predominantly used in tropical latitudes where they are extensively grown. The Green School, in Bali Indonesia, is among the best examples of Sustainable architecture using Bamboo. The creative visions of the team of Ibuku designed it to feature bamboo structures seamlessly blending with the natural environment. The school’s system is designed in a way that they are naturally ventilated. The building also includes rainwater harvesting mechanisms and bio-digester toilets in the campus infrastructure.

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Classroom interiors at Green School, in Bali, Indonesia_© ( Prescott)

II) Hempcrete

Hempcrete or Hemp Stock made by mixing lime and water, with Hemp Hurd is being used in the construction sector as an alternative to traditional material. It is light weighing and only about one-eighth the weight of concrete. It is a non-toxic building material and has high insulation and acoustic properties. It is a well-performing building material that regulates moisture content and improves air quality. It is also earthquake-resistant and insect-proof.

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Bio-Plastics And Their Nature

Bio-plastics are plastics derived from biomass reserves from sources such as plants, agricultural by-products or microorganisms. They are sourced sustainably without any greenhouse gas emissions and have a negligible amount of carbon footprint. They are being used increasingly now in structural elements, and interior finishes because of their versatile strength, flexibility, transparency and heat resistance. They can replace conventional plastics for insulation, roofing membranes, piping etc. Some examples of Bio-Plastic designs include The Arbo Skin Pavillion in Stuttgart, the Urban Public Subway with bio-plastic liner and the Biocomposite experimental pavilion, all of these structures have used materials from renewable biomass sources such as starches, cellulose, Biocomposite elements or biopolymers.

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Urban- Public-Subway- with-Bioplastic-liner_©iStockPhoto_,are%20weather%2Dresistant%20and%20durable.
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Biocomposites-Experimental-Pavillion A double-curved, parametrically designed segmental shell of light_ ©

Challenges of using Bio-Materials

Among the challenges with biomaterials is that they are not economical compared to traditional materials as they require specialized equipment which leads to increased production costs. Biomaterials may also have lower durability compared with traditional materials as they pose difficulties in terms of structural integrity and maintenance requirements. Factors such as moisture, insects, and decay can affect their performance.

Though Bio-materials have environmental benefits, they face resistance from stakeholders due to perceptions about their quality, unfamiliarity or misconceptions. Biomaterials also face limitations in terms of availability, scalability and consistency of supply. Architects and developers must initiate awareness among people to overcome barriers to gain market acceptance. All of these factors thereby affect the demand for Biomaterials.

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Impact of Bio-Materials on Sustainable Architecture

Bio-materials have a great impact on the principles of sustainability. The Construction sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas with 37% of carbon emissions, in the world. The carbon emission percentage of materials like cement is 30.3%, Ceramic is 20.3% and steel is 18.3%. Hence finding a better alternative is no longer a choice but a need that has arisen with time. 

The Production of Bio-materials has a lesser carbon footprint comparatively to their conventional alternatives, as they are made from agricultural by-products, thereby offering a sustainable solution to waste management. Some of the bio-materials can also neutralise the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere further mitigating climate change. Biomaterials are very effective in achieving energy efficiency by lowering the heat transfer through walls, roofs and windows which helps in the reduction of the use of HVAC (Heating Ventilation & Cooling) systems.

Biomaterials are usually non-toxic, non-allergenic and free from harmful chemicals or additives making them safer for the health and well-being of human beings in their dwellings. All of these factors make biomaterials a better alternative to achieving sustainability in the construction sector and can always be considered as an alternative to traditional materials wherever possible.

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Fariya is a budding Designer & Writer wanting to create an impact in the Architectural Writing Landscape. She is a Poet herself, and is passionate about history, traveling and teaching.