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Agency Seeks Living Building Ideas

Thursday, September 15, 2016

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Surfaces that don’t fade or flake; roofing that “breathes” to control airflow; and building materials that heal themselves after damage are just a few of the technologies that could be further enhanced with the study of living biological materials.

To that end, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched the Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program.

The program's goal: Create a new class of materials that combines the structural properties of traditional building materials with attributes of living systems, including the ability to rapidly grow, self-organize, self-repair and adapt to the environment.


The inclusion of living materials in human-built environments could offer significant benefits.

DARPA sees untapped potential in the marketplace. “Living materials represent a new opportunity to leverage engineered biology to solve existing problems associated with the construction and maintenance of built environments,” according to DARPA.

Living Materials Potential

The structural materials that are currently used to construct homes, buildings, and infrastructure are expensive to produce and transport, wear out due to age and damage, and have limited ability to respond to changes in their immediate surroundings, the DoD's innovation arm explains.

Living biological materials—bone, skin, bark, and coral, for example—have attributes that provide advantages over the non-living materials people build with, in that they can be grown where needed, self-repair when damaged, and respond to changes in their surroundings.

The inclusion of living materials in human-built environments could offer significant benefits; however, today scientists and engineers are unable to easily control the size and shape of living materials in ways that would make them useful for construction, according to DARPA.

Grow On Demand

“The vision of the ELM program is to grow materials on demand where they are needed,” said ELM Program Manager Justin Gallivan. “Imagine that instead of shipping finished materials, we can ship precursors and rapidly grow them on site using local resources. And, since the materials will be alive, they will be able to respond to changes in their environment and heal themselves in response to damage.”

The program seeks to merge the best features of existing technologies, such as packing materials derived from fungal mycelium and building blocks made from bacteria and sand, and build upon them.

The agency is currently seeking innovative research proposals to develop materials. For full details on the funding opportunity, click here.

Full proposals are to be submitted on or before Sept. 27.


Tagged categories: Building Envelope; Building science; Coatings Technology; Department of Defense (DOD); Funding; Government; Grants; Research; Self-healing

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