Cambridge University Designing Building Material Made from Bone

Scientists at Cambridge University are working on creating an environmentally friendly alternative to steel and concrete, which account for approximately 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. They are designing a substance derived from bone and eggshell that they hope can be used to construct the world’s cities in the future.

“I fly back and forth a lot between the UK and the US, and I’d been harboring a lot of guilt about the effect that had on my carbon footprint – I’d always assumed, as many of us do, that air travel is a huge contributor to carbon emissions,” said Michelle Oyen, a bioengineer with Cambridge’s Department of Engineering.

“But,” she added, “the truth is, while the emissions caused by air travel are significant, far more are caused by the production of concrete and steel, which of course is what most cities are built from.”

“What we’re trying to do is to rethink the way that we make things. Engineers tend to throw energy at problems, whereas nature throws information at problems – they fundamentally do things differently.”

The scientists working on this project are not looking to go around digging up graves and harvesting skeletons. The material would be made from artificial bones produced in a laboratory. The substance is attractive as a potential building material because it both stiff and resistant to damage. Additional research is being done on the possibility of replacing medical implants with this artificially grown bone.

“It might even be the case that these two composites could be combined to make a lattice-type structure, which would be even stronger,” said Oyen. “There’s some interesting science there that we’d like to look into.”

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