Nature’s Novelties: Top 10 Building Materials


Insulation made from fungus and sheep's wool, toxin-trapping drywall, bacteria-boosted bricks and other novel building materials are the new Top 10 finalists of the first-ever Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge.

The finalists, annnounced Monday (Sept. 16), are vying for $500,000 in cash prizes, including a $250,000 grand prize.

The Challenge, announced in November, "seeks to inspire innovators to recreate and retool the way products are designed, manufactured and consumed," according to Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Institute, which offers a product certification program for materials and products that contribute to healthy, sustainable, affordable housing.

C2C sponsors the contest with Make It Right, an affordable-home building organization launched in 2007 by actor Brad Pitt.

About the Challenge

The first challenge drew 144 entries, which were screened by Cradle to Cradle certification experts; toxicologists from ToxServices, a Washington D.C. environmental consulting group; and building professionals from Make It Right.

A panel of 10 judges will select four winners. In addition to the grand prize winner, the first-place finisher will receive $125,000; second place, $75,000; and third place, $50,000.

Cradle to Cradle says the challenge is "aligned with national and international trends in green building that are redefining sustainability beyond traditional indicators such [as] energy efficiency to also include consideration for improved human and environmental health."

And the Finalists Are...

Following are project descriptions from C2C and the entrants.

Ecovative Mushroom Insulation

The Green Island, NH, company has developed a renewable, high-performance, and cost-effective replacement for plastic foams. Ecovative uses mycelium (mushroom “roots”) to bond together agricultural byproducts like corn stalks into a material that can replace plastic foam.

Ecovative’s Mushroom Insulation is based on agricultural byproducts.

After selling the product as a packaging replacement for Styrofoam, Ecovative grew a tiny house from the material. "We see this as a proving ground for the $21 billion rigid board foam insulation market," the company says.

Roma Domus Mineral Paints

Atlanta, GA- based Roma says one gallon of its mineral paint covers twice the area of acrylic paint.

The company manufactures interior finish paints and primers for sheetrock, wood, plasters, and trim. The coatings are derived from natural materials, washable (matte sheen and above), free of toxic chemicals, free of asthmagens, hypoallergenic, and permeable, prohibit bacteria that form mold, and absorb carbon dioxide.

The products are designed for commercial and residential use.

Bellwether Materials Softbatts Sheep's Wool Insulation

The latest entrant to the $4.5 billion insulation industry comes from down on the farm.

Softbatts, made from sheep's wool, "is safe for people, animals, and the environment," says San Francisco-based Bellwether. "Very little energy is used in manufacturing. Installers don’t need to suit up."

The product can absorb pollutants, is difficult to burn, and can be pulled out and reused, the company says.

The batts expand naturally to eliminate air pockets, making them faster to install than fiberglass and cotton alternatives, says Bellwether, which reports $6 million in sales in its first year.

Ecococon Straw Panels

Unlike the straw used by the ill-fated 3 Little Pigs for housing, these loadbearing, prefabricated panels are designed for cost-efficient and precise construction of super-insulated houses. The Ecococon modular building system is made from 99.4 percent rapidly renewable and mostly locally sourced materials (straw and wood).

Ecococon says that fire resistance has been "proven up to 120 minutes for clay-plastered straw panels" and that the panels have not shown a problem with pests or animals when used in built structures.

Haplobuilt Haploblocks

Haploblocks were conceived to address a "real-world problem," the company's entry says. "The men Hap Turner employed in rural Appalachia building custom homes returned at night to 'affordable' single-wide trailers and other substandard, toxic, high-environmental-cost housing."

Haploblocks are prefabricated modular building enclosure components assembled and connected on site. All materials are biodegradable or recyclable. The manufacture and assembly is simple, requiring few tools, little energy, and no water, the company says.

Haploblocks can be disassembled and used again in new construction. "Regional manufacturing further reduces energy and environmental costs and promotes social discourse and economic justice," the company reports.

GR Green Roofing and Siding

GR's composites are made from recycled milk bottles, plastic bags and waste limestone. The company says its roofing and siding will last 50 years and are then recyclable. GR Green calls its carbon footprint "minuscule" in the $1.5 billion premium roofing and $10.5 billion siding industries.

Green Roofing and Siding

GR Green Roofing and Siding says its ductile materials are made from 100 percent recycled materials and will last 50 years.

bioMASON biobrick

Founded in 2012, the North Carolina-based startup says it employs natural microorganisms and chemical processes to manufacture biological cement-based masonry building materials—essentially, "growing" its bricks rather than firing them.

"Traditional brick manufacturing utilizes a fuel firing process and is responsible for approximately 800 million tons of CO2 emissions every year," says bioMASON.

bio brick

Biobrick employs bacteria and performs like traditional masonry, bioMASON says.

The company employs bacteria extracted from waste streams "to produce a natural cement within a mix of aggregate."

It adds: "The cementation process is achieved in ambient temperatures. A hardened brick requires less than five days to form, and is comparable in cost and performance to traditional masonry."

Dutch Design Initiative Wood Wool Cement Board

Invented in Sweden, where it is used mainly as a roofing product, Reinforced Wood Wool Cement Board is a building material for walls and roofs made from wood wool and cement.

Boards are fire-resistant, waterproof, rot-resistant, termite- and vermin-resistant, insulating, sound-absorbing, free of harmful emissions, and accept a wide range of finishes, the manufacturer reports.

ECOR Universal Construction Panels

Developed by Noble Environmental Technologies in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ECOR Universal Construction Panels come in various shapes and sizes.  The panels are lightweight, low volume, and "designed for anyone to assemble easily," the manufacturer says.

ECOR is a sustainable material technology that uses waste cellulose fiber (from paper, cardboard and similar products). Manufacturing includes a closed-loop water system with 99.5 percent reuse, the company says.

StormWall Structural Panel System

StormWall, from StormWall Industries Inc., is a structural wall, floor, and ceiling system with composite panels that supersede and replace the use of drywall. The company says StormWall sequesters three times the carbon dioxide emitted from the production process and supply chain.

StormWall walls, floors and ceilings can reportedly withstand winds up to 250 mph.

 The StormWall panel is Classified E1 for indoor air quality with formaldehyde content confirmed at <8.0mg/100g. Panels are painted in factory with VOC-free, GREENGUARD-certified paint, further reducing formaldehyde emissions by 80 percent to 95 percent, the company says.

The system is engineered to withstand earthquakes and wind speeds of 250 mph "at a fraction of the cost" of traditional materials, the manufacturer says.

View video presentations of any of the 10 finalists here.


Tagged categories: Awards and honors; Building Envelope; Building materials; Certifications and standards; Construction; Green building; Green coatings; Green roofs; Green walls; Recycled building materials

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