Living materials are the future of sustainable construction

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Ounaies’ counterpart in Friborg is Jürgen Ruhedirector of the Pole of Excellence Living Materials Systems, Adaptive and Energy Autonomous (liveMatS). During a webinar last summer, Ruhe explained it this way: “If we look at materials today, one of the essential characteristics is that materials have properties that do not change over time. But if we turn our gaze to nature, nothing is really constant. For living systems, adaptability is the key to survival. The goal of our liveThe MatS cluster is to generate material systems that can adapt to changes in the environment based on sensory inputs and then improve over their lifetime.

Above all, says Ounaies, living materials are multifunctional. They don’t just provide strength, elasticity or toughness, they reduce environmental impacts and promote health; they monitor their own state and, when they are exhausted, they can be recycled or reabsorbed. They harvest energy from their environment, store it and use it for what they need. They do these things, ideally, while self-powering and without external sensors or motors.

Above all, perhaps, engineered living materials aim to be durable. “The concept forces us to look at the whole life cycle,” says Ounaies. “Think about the raw material, the extraction and manufacturing processes, the waste generated, the energy required. The design must take everything into account. Thus, unlike many smart materials, living materials do not exert any harmful load on the environment.

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