- The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — under the Department of Defense — announced its new Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program, which aims to develop "living" construction materials using the "structural properties of traditional building ingredients with attributes of living systems," according to Network World.
- The agency said the materials, representing new construction technology, will be able to self-repair, grow where needed and even adapt to changing environments.
- DARPA officials said their goal is to "engineer structural properties into the genomes of biological systems" so that organisms will automatically know what shape and properties to assume.
Agency officials said they can envision a day when they will be able to ship material precursors to various projects and grow the needed materials "on demand" on site. However, although the vision is there, DARPA officials said "significant breakthroughs" are still required to make the concept a reality.
If successful, DARPA won't be the first to grow construction materials. Building material startup BioMason has been able to "grow" bricks in a four-day process, similar to the one that creates coral, by injecting microorganisms into sand. The company said the bricks' "biological cement" creates a material strong enough to use in both commercial and residential construction applications.
And in other material self-healing technology, two concrete/cement research teams are developing material with that ability. A Canadian team is experimenting with fibers like fly ash and wood cellulose in an effort to hit on a combination that will be able to seal concrete and cracks. And another team at Cardiff University in Wales announced that it was working with three separate concrete healing technologies based on its own self-healing concrete formula. The team said its goal is to be able to come up with a system that can be embedded into concrete structures to help with needed repairs when it senses damage.