Bio-based materials

Lisa Raynes

by Lisa Raynes

16/03/2023, in Design Hints and Tips | Energy focus | Main Blog

The Pride Road Architects (aka the Lionesses) meet regularly to undertake CPD, share knowledge and to learn about new materials. This Spring we visited the Building Centre in Fitzrovia London to look at new eco materials

The Materials Library at the Building Centre showcases a range of bio-based materials cultivated in the UK or made from industrial and agricultural byproducts. These materials suggest a future built environment with a renewed and regenerative relationship to the land. Let’s explore the different materials in the exhibit:

  1. Stone – Stone is a precious and finite material that, when treated carefully, can last almost indefinitely. It is fireproof, highly resistant to erosion, water, and weathering, and has huge compressive strength. It is also heavy enough to work as an anchor or foundation and strong enough to work as a column or lintel.
  2. Hemp – A ferocious and hardy plant that thrives without needing pesticides or fertilizers, hemp can be used to make an effective insulative material called hempcrete. Hempcrete can be cast into formwork around a timber frame or used as an off-the-shelf precast block and easily integrated into existing structures. Unlike some lighter insulation materials, hempcrete has considerable thermal mass, which means it naturally regulates room temperature throughout the day.
  3. Clay – An incredibly versatile building material, clay is often present in soils across the UK. Raw, unfired clay can be mixed with substrates, aggregate, or fibers like straw to make strong, durable rammed earth and cob walls that can be sealed with oil to make waterproof surfaces, as well as renders, mortars, and plasters.
  4. Straw – A high-performance material, straw can be used in contemporary construction and in conjunction with state-of-the-art construction methods. Straw-based technologies produce well-insulated, breathable buildings that are acoustically isolated, fire-retardant, and weather resilient. Straw can be stacked in bales to form load-bearing walls, packed into structural, prefabricated elements, or used to thermally upgrade an existing structure. It can also be used externally as cladding to create durable, weatherproof envelopes with lifespans of up to 70 years.
  5. Hem – Hem is a material made from mixing hemp with a wet lime binder. Hemcrete can be cast into formwork around a timber frame or used in a precast block form. Unlike some lighter insulation materials, hemcrete has considerable thermal mass, which means it naturally regulates the room temperature throughout the day.
  6. Brickfield Bricks – Brickfield works with waste clay, mixing clay from a disused clay pit in St Austell, Cornwall with waste materials to create beautiful bricks. They are fired by hand on-site in a beehive kiln built with salvaged bricks from the Wheal Remfry site, a clay pit that shut down in 2020.
  7. Cobbauge – A research project led by the University of Plymouth, this material mixes earth and natural fibers with water to create strong and durable cob walls that meet new thermal and structural building regulations.
  8. K-Brick – These bricks from Kenoteq are made from over 90% recycled construction and demolition waste, contain no cement, and do not need firing. The manufacturing process requires a tenth of the energy used during the creation of clay-fired bricks and produces only a tenth of the carbon emissions.
  9. Strokettes – Made entirely from organic materials, these strokettes are light, breathable, and sturdy, making them ideal for new builds and renovations, as well as internal load-bearing walls and repairs.
  10. Mycelium Insulation Panel – These insulation panels are made from mycelium grown around an underlying layer of hemp. More fireproof than conventional insulation and free from any harmful chemicals, these panels are likely to be seen more and more in future construction projects.
  11. Mycelium Insulation Panels – Mykor These panels are made from mycelium networks grown around a substrate of wood pulp. Like the previous panels, they offer a sustainable alternative to conventional insulation materials. The mycelium acts as a natural binder, creating a strong and lightweight material that is also fire-resistant and free from harmful chemicals. In addition, the production process has a low carbon footprint, making it an environmentally friendly choice.
  12. WasteNot
A&J Scott
Waste timber WasteNot is a building material made from waste timber. A&J Scott, a family-owned sawmill in Scotland, developed the material as a solution to the problem of waste timber in the industry. The material is created by compressing and binding the waste timber using only heat and pressure, with no additional adhesives or chemicals. The resulting product is strong, lightweight, and can be used in a variety of applications, from flooring to cladding.
  13. Ecotile
 Ecotile Flooring
Recycled PVC Ecotile is a sustainable flooring option made from recycled PVC. The tiles are designed to be easily installed and replaced, reducing waste and making it a more environmentally friendly option than traditional flooring materials. In addition, the tiles are highly durable and can withstand heavy traffic, making them suitable for a range of commercial and industrial applications.
  14. BioFoam Insulation
Ecovative Design
Mycelium and agricultural waste BioFoam is an insulation material made from mycelium and agricultural waste, such as corn stalks and husks. The material is produced using a low-energy process that generates no waste, making it a sustainable choice for insulation. In addition, the material is fire-resistant and free from harmful chemicals, making it a safer option for building occupants.
  15. Re-Form Wall Tiles
Forbo Flooring Systems
Recycled PET Re-Form Wall Tiles are made from recycled PET, a plastic commonly found in water bottles. The tiles are designed to be easily installed and replaced, and come in a range of colors and patterns. By using recycled PET, the tiles help to reduce waste and the use of virgin materials in the construction industry.

Overall, the materials presented in this exhibition offer a glimpse into a future where sustainability is a top priority in the construction industry. By using bio-based and waste materials, these products offer a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional building materials, without sacrificing performance or aesthetics. As the industry continues to move towards a more sustainable future, it’s exciting to see the innovations and advancements that will emerge.