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Innovation of the Week: Bio-bricks

One of the developers of the world's first bio-brick, which uses human urine as one of the binding components, showed off one of their bricks in the lab at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town.
One of the developers of the world's first bio-brick, which uses human urine as one of the binding components, showed off one of their bricks in the lab at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Cape Town. (RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

What is it? Bricks made of human urine

Innovators University of Cape Town engineering students

What were they thinking? We’ve built our civilization brick by brick. But bricks, like our civilization, aren’t very good for the planet. They’re baked in high-temperature kilns that throw off lots of carbon, contributing to global warming. But a group of South African engineering students may have come up with a solution: bricks made of human urine, sand, and bacteria that require no baking at all.

Did it work? The bricks, which take four to six days to form, are rock hard. But there is some unpleasantness involved: They smell. “Say you had a pet and it peed in the corner, and you have that strong smell — that’s ammonia being released,” Dyllon Randall, the students’ supervisor, told the BBC. “This process produces ammonia as a by-product.” The ammonia, though, is converted into a fertilizer. And the bricks lose their scent after about 48 hours.

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David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe