Carbon dioxide (CO2) spewed from power plants and automobiles is the single largest source of man-made greenhouse gas. Every year, we pump more than 30 billion metric tons (33 billion tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere where it speeds the damaging effects of global warming [source: Trafton]. While the energy sector experiments with trapping or "sequestering" CO2 emissions underground, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has successfully used genetically modified yeast to convert CO2 gas into solid, carbon-based building materials.
Like the Harvard termite team, the MIT researchers were also inspired by nature, this time the abalone. Like other crustaceans, abalone can convert ocean-borne CO2 and minerals into calcium carbonate to build their rock-hard shells. The researchers isolated the enzyme that abalone use to mineralize the CO2 and engineered a batch of yeast to produce it. A beaker full of genetically modified yeast can produce 2 pounds (1 kilogram) of solid carbonate from only 1 pound (0.5 kilograms) of C02 [source: Trafton]. Imagine how many carbon bricks they could make with 30 billion metric tons of CO2.
For lots more list of world-changing inventions and futurist predictions, check out the related HowStuffWorks links below.
Author's Note: 10 Futuristic Construction Materials
There's something at once exhilarating and terrifying about watching a swarm of autonomous flying robots build something beautiful, or a self-driving robotic car seamlessly pull up to the Taco Bell drive-thru. We are creating machines whose artificial intelligence will soon rival our own "organic" intelligence. In 99 percent of the cases, this will invariably be a good thing, making roadways safer — the Google cars have yet to have an accident or get a ticket — and automating tasks that used to require hundreds of hours of dangerous human labor. But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that intelligent machines will eventually rebel against us and harvest our organs for battery power. I just hope that our race for scientific progress is held in check by a strong ethical "off" switch. Just to be safe, I unplug all of my "smart" appliances at night. I like my spleen right where it is, thank you.
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- Ecological Society of America. "Water Purification Fact Sheet" (May 21, 2014) http://www.esa.org/ecoservices/comm/body.comm.fact.wate.html
- LaMonica, Martin. "High-tech aerogels wrap homes with insulation." CNET. Feb. 2, 2012. (May 21, 2014) http://www.cnet.com/news/high-tech-aerogels-wrap-homes-with-insulation/
- Liggett, Brit. "The World's First Tower Built by Flying Robots Rises in France." inhabitat. Jan. 3, 2012. (May 21, 2014) http://inhabitat.com/the-worlds-first-tower-built-by-flying-robots-rises-in-france/
- Nano & Me. "Nano in Construction." (May 21, 2014) http://www.nanoandme.org/nano-products/construction/
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- Pruitt, Sarah. "The Secrets of Ancient Roman Concrete." History. June 21, 2013. (May 21, 2014) http://www.history.com/news/the-secrets-of-ancient-roman-concrete
- Ragan, Sean Michael. "Transparent Aluminum." Jan. 17, 2012. (May 21, 2014) http://makezine.com/2012/01/17/transparent-aluminum/
- Rubenstein, Madeleine. "Emissions from the Cement Industry." State of the Planet. May 9, 2012. (May 21, 2014) http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/05/09/emissions-from-the-cement-industry/
- Trafton, Anne. "Putting Carbon Dioxide to Good Use." MIT News. Sept. 22, 2010. (May 21, 2014) http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2010/belcher-carbon-0922
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "EPA's New Green Parking Lot Allows Scientists to Study Permeable Surfaces That May Help the Environment." Oct. 28, 2009. (May 21, 2014) http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/d10ed0d99d826b068525735900400c2a/61b216a56ea5e4ac8525765d0056a5a7!OpenDocument
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Pervious Concrete Pavement." National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. (May 21, 2014) http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/menuofbmps/index.cfm?action=browse&Rbutton=detail&bmp=137
- The United States National Nanotechnology Initiative. "Size of the Nanoscale." (May 21, 2014) http://www.nano.gov/nanotech-101/what/nano-size
- The University of Rhode Island. "URI research on self-healing concrete yields cost-effective system to extend life of structures." May 25, 2010. (May 21, 2014) http://www.uri.edu/news/releases/?id=5359
HowStuffWorks visits Japan to learn more about uguisubari, or nightingale floors, which were features of Nijo Castles and Toji-in Temple.