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Opportunities and Challenges of Bacterial Cellulose as a Façade Material

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Ruth Morrow, Karolina Bloch, Professor Ben BridgensORCiD



Bacterial Cellulose is a bacteria synthesized cellulose, secreted by a genus of bacteria, known as Komagataeibacter. Research on and use of Bacterial Cellulose has grown exponentially over recent decades, chiefly in the fields of biomedical, food, packaging, product and fashion design. However, in respect to its potential applications in the Built Environment, significantly less research has occurred. The research that does exist is mostly related to its application as a cement add-mixture in concrete, drawing on its fibrous strength and hence capacity to prevent cracking. In this paper we will discuss the evolution and testing of Bacterial Cellulose as a façade material for the built environment. As part of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment, a diverse team of researchers, that includes, architects, microbiologists, material scientists, social scientists, textiles and visual designers, have come together to design a range of prototypes using emerging biotechnologies for the built environment. The Bacterial Cellulose Façade is one of those prototypes. Bacterial Cellulose is highly hydrophilic, absorbing approximately 98% of its weight in water. This property presents both huge challenges and opportunities in the context of facade design for habitable buildings. Facades are fundamentally designed to act as moisture barriers, moderating against external climatic conditions, but their construction also ‘manages’ the moisture that arises in the internal environment from human habitation, ie breathing, washing, cooking and drying clothes, through material choice and thermal gradient. Indoor relative humidity is directly related to the growth of bacteria, virus, fungi and other pathogens which can lead to health problems such as increased risk of respiratory infections and asthma. In addition, the retention of water on a facade can trigger biological and physical degradation processes, yet it may also result in cooling due to evaporation; act as potential vertical SUDS; and/or support biological life. Hence Bacterial Cellulose’s relationship to water requires wide-ranging and critical investigation if it is to be used in façade construction. This project uses a mixture of design-led prototypes and lab/ workshop-based iterative trials to understand, develop and test the application of Bacterial Cellulose, used in pellicle sheet form, as a façade material. The project explores the materials unique morphological interaction with water, its properties (including aesthetics) both under construction and insitu. We will design and build an externally located façade ‘scaffold’ which will allow us to trail a range of assembly and fixing techniques insitu, and in parallel, we will test the material’s response in the lab and in-situ, to a range of conditions, crucially - moisture and heat. We will also consider drying processes, both in the workshop and in situ on the façade scaffold, alongside methods, at both micro and macro-scale, which may potentially alter the Bacterial Cellulose’s interaction with water, such as heat treatment and water repellent approaches. The impact on durability, means of assembly, performance and aesthetic qualities will be recorded, critiqued and studied systematically by our multidisciplinary team who will identify future areas of research. This paper will recount their findings.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Morrow R, Bloch K, Zhang M, Jiang Y, Loh J, Bridgens B

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: CEES 2021 - 1st International Conference on Construction, Energy, Environment and Sustainability

Year of Conference: 2021

Pages: 1-2

Print publication date: 12/10/2021

Online publication date: 13/10/2021

Acceptance date: 14/05/2021

Date deposited: 01/10/2023