Renewable Building Materials: Researchers Develop a Biodegradable Alternative to Sheetrock

ON 09/17/2021 AT 07:58 PM

Gypsum, the main ingredient in plasterboard, alternately known as sheetrock or wallboard, contributes a surprisingly large amount of carbon emissions everywhere it is used. Scientists at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom have just received a grant to co-develop an alternative which can be manufactured with low carbon emissions and is biodegradable as well.

Adaptavate is creating a biofilm-based biodegradable alternative to conventional sheetrock

The UK Startup Adaptavate is creating a biofilm-based biodegradable alternative to conventional plasterboard for building construction. Photo: Adaptavate

Adaptavate, a startup company which produces sustainable building materials, provided one of the initial seed ideas for the innovation. They currently make a product called Breathaboard, a biodegradable plasterboard, which replaces gypsum, the primary ingredient in most of the world’s plasterboards, with a polymer fiber made from compostable crop waste.

The product has the advantage that it tests out as having improved thermal and acoustic insulation compared to the gypsum product. It also has one other big benefit.

“Gypsum is the third most used construction material and accounts for 3% of UK carbon emissions,” said Jeff Ive, Technical Director at Adaptavate.

“It’s either mined or produced from waste from coal power stations and its becoming increasingly expensive to produce. As it’s calcium sulphate based, it also needs to be disposed of carefully to it doesn’t harm the environment.”

To take the concept product to the next level, Adaptavate is partnering with microbiologists from the University of Bath’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry on one side, and experts in concrete technology from the same institution’s Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering.  

Those two departments have just been awarded a grant from the country’s National Biofilm Innovation Centre (NBIC), to work with Adaptavate to come up with an optimum set of properties to support Adaptavate’s idea, using the University’s own bacteria-based construction technology (BBCT) as a base for the collaboration.

Heading the project from the University of Bath is Dr. Susanne Beghard, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Biology and Biochemistry and the Milner Center for Evolution. She is working in partnership with co-collaborator Professor Kevin Paine from the University’s Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering.”

“Biofilms are formed when bacteria stick together to coat a surface, as opposed to growing neat dot-shaped clumps on a petri dish,” Dr. Beghard said about the innovation. “This is a really exciting project that will see whether we can exploit the natural biofilm-forming abilities of bacteria to function as a kind of glue that will help improve the properties of biodegradable construction materials.”

The grant funding is for a six-month investigation by the University. Assuming it is successful, the next step will be to determine how best to scale up manufacturing for the product.

Assuming it becomes a reality, this could revolutionize one of the most important components of modern construction technology while eliminating one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions on the planet.