Biological Living

Imagine a world where man-made machines are not powered by the combustion of organic materials, or the use of rare earth minerals to extract energy from our environment. Where humans and other living organisms work together to create a sustainable environment for the future.

This dream is slowly becoming a reality with research into the use of Photocells by Rachael Armstrong at the University of Greenwich to create metabolic structures for engineering.

Photocells are a self-organised, endogenously ordered, spherical collection of polypeptides believed to be the building blocks of life. Photocells contain no DNA and essentially are non-living matter, but they can be stimulated using chemical signatures to communicate with their environment to perform different tasks.

Researchers at the University of Greenwich are investigating the use of Photocells to help strengthen the timber piles supporting the city of Venice for the Future Venice Project. This conservation attempt is an alternative to the use of floodgates and barriers that could have large impacts on the local ecology. The idea is to use the Photocells to consume dissolved CO2 within the waters around the city to produce a natural carbon-based structure around the piles. This will offer extra support to the piles and help with spreading the point load of the city to the solid seabed. This is just one of the possibilities for Photocells.

Another potential venture is to combine the cells with paint resulting in a wall covering that will consume CO2 from the surrounding air., helping further to reduce the levels of CO2 that are adding to the effects of climate change. Although understanding of this technology is still very immature, it has the potential to be adapted to many different applications and could be the start of metabolic structures in our homes, places of work and all environments where man can build.