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What will replace steel and concrete?

London skyline

Materials grown in labs to replicate natural substances could dominate construction in the future, according to a leading academic.

University of Cambridge bioengineer Michelle Oyen believes biomimetic materials could become more attractive than steel or concrete.

She is speaking at the Cambridge Science Festival tonight as part of a series of engineering-focused events.

“The single biggest problem with modern materials, and building with modern materials as a direct extension, is their energy footprint,” said Oyen.

“In addition to the energy input at the time of fabrication, many engineering materials are not recyclable, or not recyclable in a very cost-effective manner.

“So an appropriately named lifecycle analysis of a natural or nature-inspired material is going to demonstrate advantages across both initial manufacturing and end-of-service timepoints compared with engineering materials such as steel and concrete.”

Elsewhere at the festival, Tim Minshall from the Institute for Manufacturing will explain how engineers improve lives, with examples including construction of a building nearly 1km tall.

Hugh Hunt, reader in engineering dynamics and vibration at the University of Cambridge, will look at the engineering challenges faced by Barnes Wallis in his design of the famous bouncing bomb, and by the prisoners of war who never flew the glider they built in the roof of Colditz.


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