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Energy Transitions Research at the University of Cambridge

Natural building materials for low-carbon city build

Concrete and steel are the primary materials used in constructing buildings, however, University of Cambridge researchers have shown an alternative more energy efficient materials can be used.

Dr Michelle Oyen's (Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge) research in the field of biomimetics investigates artificial bone and eggshell. The composites of minerals provide stiffness and hardness, whilst the protein gives it toughness or resistance to fracture. In her lab, Oyen and her team have been making samples of artificial eggshell and bone via a process that could be easily scaled up – and since the process takes place at room temperature, the samples take very little energy to produce.

Dr Michael Ramage (Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge) believes the use of building materials need to expand to include more natural materials. Dr Ramage's research spans several research projects using wood. Working with PLP Architecture and engineers Smith and Wallwork, Dr Ramage recently delivered plans for an 80-storey, 300 m high, timber skyscraper to the Mayor of London. The proposals currently being developed would create more than 1,000 residential units in a 1 million square-foot, mixed-use tower and mid-rise terraces, integrated into the Barbican in central London.

“Just because we can make all of our buildings out of concrete and steel doesn’t mean we should. But it will require big change,” Dr Michelle Oyen


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Image credit: Abdul Rahman