The Biomaterial Revolution: Green Charcoal by Shreyas More and Meenal Sutaria

Smoke Scream! STIR selects design projects, people and practices that aim to kill the smoke with smart innovation.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Dec 09, 2019

Can design offer significant solutions to the grave pollution crisis at hand? Is it possible for green technology to turn hazardous particulate matter into currency for change? Green Charcoal, a biomaterial created from the practice-based research led by Shreyas More with research mentor Meenal Sutaria, aims to bring alternative materiality in the forefront in view of the grave environmental crisis at hand.

Process prototype - Exploration of different percentage of charcoal and concrete to test adsorption, porosity and strength of the mix | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
Process prototype - Exploration of different percentage of charcoal and concrete to test absorption, porosity and strength of the mix Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

The building and construction industry caters to nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and particulate pollution, becoming one of the major causes for the depleting the quality of air. This not only puts at stake lives of millions of people but also raises concerns over the values of architecture that are meant to help improve lives.

The Green Charcoal biodegradabe brick with luffa reinforcements (L) and without luffa reinforcements (R) | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
The Green Charcoal biodegradabe brick with luffa reinforcements (L) and without luffa reinforcements (R) Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

To shift the narrative, More and Sutaria’s research sits at the intersection of material innovation and technology and develops biodegradable construction materials for a circular economy. “It is an exploration of developing biomaterials to demonstrate how materials can disrupt the design and economics of built environments,” says More, who is the Co-founder and Co-director at the New Materials Research Centre (NMRC) at the Indian School of Design and Innovation in Mumbai.

Performative soilcrete brick - Plants taking roots and growing in the Green Charcol biodegradable brick 1 | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
Performative soilcrete brick - Plants taking roots and growing in the Green Charcol biodegradable brick 1Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

The natural composite mixture of Green Charcoal comprises soil, aggregates and cement. A key component in this performance-based material is the organic luffa, which is a network of fibres that offers reinforcement to the mix, increases its compressive strength and flexibility, and ensures a high porosity for better anchorage for plant roots. The pores of the luffa double up as tiny water tanks that provide enough moisture, and further brings down the temperature of the material.

Development of the brick prototype | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
Development of the brick prototype Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

Another primary element is charcoal, which is applied in small portions in the composition. Charcoal, being hyper-porous in nature, absorbs particulate impurities such as nitrates and sulfates and converts them into plant nutrition, thus bringing about a co-dependent system.The project, which is currently in its first stage of pilot research, is aimed at customisation to suit the needs of diverse sites and regions.

Testing surface undulations on the bricks to provide micro light-shadow conditions for small plants and better anchorage for the roots | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
Testing surface undulations on the bricks to provide micro light-shadow conditions for small plants and better anchorage for the roots Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

“The impetus here is not mass production but local production for targeted performance,” says Sutaria. Green Charcoal promises diverse application across a range of areas that include building interiors and urban landscapes in the form boundary walls, road dividers, and interactive walls in public spaces.

Modular selfshading soilcrete brick made using the Green Charcoal mix | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
Modular self-shading soilcrete brick made using the Green Charcoal mix Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

In developing countries, concrete from the demolished buildings ends up in landfills and gives way to expensive, large-scale waste and economic loss. The research looks at the need for a circular loop cycle in designing materials, be it natural or man-made, which can contribute as ‘material resource banks of the future’.

On comparison with the recent innovations in alternate materiality, such as Hempcrete - a composite of concrete with natural Hemp fibre reinforcement – or Coircrete, made of soil, cement, coir and straw – Green Charcoal after its initial stage has come out with a promising 2.1 MPa (megapascal), where standard Hempcrete and Coircrete is typically at 1MPa and 2.03 MPa respectively. “The Green Charcoal material composite has a 90 percent reduction in the use of coarse aggregate, 4 percent reduction in cement, 4 percent reduction in fine aggregate, 21 percent increase in air pockets. Effectively it has a 54 percent increase in organic matter as compared to a standard concrete block,” explains More.

Cradle to Cradle materials - Seeds germinating into seedlings in the Green Charoal mix representing cycle of rebirth | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
Cradle to Cradle materials - Seeds germinating into seedlings in the Green Charoal mix representing cycle of rebirth Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

The research merges with the principles of nature, which does not differentiate between aesthetics and functionality. As a wall façade, its surface bears visually impressive patterns that control heat gain and allow for adsorption through the increasing surface area.

Performative soilcrete brick - Plants taking roots and growing in the Green Charcol biodegradable brick | The Green Charcoal | Shreyas More | Meenal Sutaria| STIRworld
Performative soilcrete brick - Plants taking roots and growing in the Green Charcol biodegradable brick Image Credit: Courtesy of ISDI

The innovation fosters a need to reflect on our perceptions for design and the built environment. It looks at aspects of permanence and transience in building construction, and emphasises that factors such as material longevity, durability, and strength performance need to be designed for specific purposes. Stepping away from the idea of architecture as creating finite enclosures, Green Charcoal envisions a more sustainable future where permeable and porous environments can co-exist with nature.

Read more from the series:

Breathing lungs for Delhi: Aũra towers and drones by Studio Symbiosis
Designing breathable cities: Smog Free Project by Daan Roosegaarde
Turning rice straw into resource: Better Air Now by IKEA
Recycling air pollution into inks: AIR-INK by Graviky Labs
Traditional solutions to air pollution:CoolAnt Coral by Ant Studio

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than three years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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