Scientists in England are hard at work developing building materials that could not only reduce harmful carbon emissions, but actually use chemicals to convert CO2 in the surrounding air into benign substances, keeping them out of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The chemicals, called protocells, perform chemical reactions that mimic those ordinarily carried out by living organisms. Dr. Rachel Armstrong of the research group Avatar explained to CNN:
“A protocell could be mixed with wall paint and programmed to produce limestone when exposed to carbon (dioxide) on the surface of a building,” she said. “Then you’ve got a paint that can actually eat carbon and change it into a shell-like substance.”
She and other researchers also envision these protocells to enable buildings to “heal” themselves, using these shell-like substances (for instance, limsetone) to organically close tiny cracks and flaws in the structure. This technology is still several years away–Armstrong estimates 2014 at the earliest–but firms in the United States and United Kingdom are intrigued and eager to put them to use.