At the beginning of the year I started a new company that makes skin care products out of fermented green tea. You can see the results of this at SkynTea. The first batch is complete and am currently preparing samples and finishing the labelling. One of the biproducts of the fermentation process that creates this skin tonic is bacterial cellulose sheets, translucent mats that can grow several inches thick. One of the long term aims of the new company Biomic is to invest a significant portion of our research budget into humanitarian and ecological uses of bacterial cellulose. Skin care products are luxury goods and it appeals to me that a high end product may also help fund projects that could help support necessities like food, clothing, and shelter.
The idea of creating a biodome from the cellulose bi-product of making a skin care product must seem quite unintuitive and possibly fanciful. It is an area that is well worth researching though and could provide lightweight, strong, non-polluting structures that could be used for production of food crops or as shelters for people. The cellulose produced during kombucha fermentation is already being used to create wound dressings, contact lenses and even clothing (see Susan Lee’s TED talk on growing your own clothes and related blog post on Ars Biologica).
Considering that panels for structures can be grown into specific shapes that could form individual panels in these structures it is almost possible to visualise some of the concepts developed by Bucky Fuller, the inventor/discoverer of geodesic domes.
Buckminster Fuller and his architecture partner Shoji Sadao mocked up this photo of a photocollage, Project for Floating Cloud Structures (Cloud Nine) , around 1960. Cloud Nines are self-contained communities of several thousand people living inside enclosed geodesic spheres a mile wide, which float over the earth’s surface.
Because the geodesic structure increases in strength as it gets bigger, and its surface increases at a power of two, while its volume increases at a power of three, Fuller hypothesized that heating the interior air even one degree will set the Cloud Nines aloft.
Fanciful, it seems again, but looking at some of the objective scientific literature about bacterial cellulose it seems that BC (bacterial cellulose) could be an ideal material for such sci-fi futures. Maybe Bucky’s idea of floating cities is too far fetched, but how about ground based hydroponic farms under large, transparent cellulose domes.
These quotes are borrowed from a June 26th presentation titled “Bacterial Cellulose Composites Opportunities and Challenges” from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Applied Materials Science Group.
- Bacterial Cellulose—an attractive engineering material:
- High Modulus (~100 GPa), High Strength (~2 GPa)
- Low LCTE: (~1 x 10-7 K-1), High Aspect Ratio (~50)
- Nano-sized: Interesting Optical & Barrier Properties
- Bacterial Cellulose—a unique cellulosic material Inherent Purity:
- free of hemicellulose, lignin, pectin, wax Moldable in cultivation, May be produced directly as coating
- Natural network structure, High Crystallinity: ~85%, High DP
- High Carbon-to-Cellulose Conversion Efficiency
What do you think? Would you like to see a prototype dome in the next year or so?