CarbonHouse: designing the house of the future


New materials for more sustainable cities

In the global context of climate change, the urgent need to find sustainable alternatives to current forms of development arises. In this sense, the materials we use to build our houses, offices, roads and ports have much say in the matter.

It is not about finding a new material with which to build our cities, but about carrying out a complete change, about establishing a new paradigm in line with the current reality of population growth and environmental awareness of today’s world.

The unstoppable rate of growth of our cities, with current technology, makes a sustainable future impossible. And there is nothing more graphic that proves this statement than the forecasted construction of more than a million houses a week between now and 2050. By then, the number of buildings we have today would have multiplied by two.

In this context, the CarbonHouse project stems.

Origin of the CarbonHouse project

The CarbonHouse project arises from the need to find an alternative that enables the sustainable development of our society. As a research project of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), CarbonHouse seeks to demonstrate the benefits of using carbon, in its different forms, as an alternative to conventional construction materials.

Born in 2020 and led by Mark Goulthorpe, Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture at MIT, CarbonHouse is included within the ARPA-E program, which promotes energy technologies with high potential and impact.

Mark Goulthorpe explaining the CarbonHouse project.

Carbon: a material for the cities of the future

The production of conventional construction materials such as steel, cement, aluminum or plaster, generates a huge amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere.

Faced with these unsustainable materials, carbon in its solid form has been proposed as a sustainable alternative to create more environmentally friendly cities. Thus, some hydrocarbons such as methane can be used to produce hydrogen as a clean energy source and to build light and energy efficient buildings with the excess carbon. And, furthermore, do it on a sufficient scale.

Carbon, a sustainable substitute. 

According to Radek Michalik, from Composite Design Studio, carbon fiber-based materials for example represent notable improvements over conventional construction materials: they can offer 5 times more robustness and up to 12 times greater resistance, which translates into lighter structures, improved performances and also the possibility of reaching higher heights.

These alternative technologies would not be limited by resources shortage because, even by converting all the natural gas we produce today into carbon and hydrogen, we would have enough reserves for the next hundreds of years. In fact, our planet is not running out of carbon, but it is depleting the capacity of our atmosphere to regenerate the waste generated when converting carbon into carbon dioxide.

In addition, all this could be achieved with tighter CO2 emissions. Thus, one ton of aluminum represents the emission of more than two tons of CO2 into the atmosphere; a ton of steel up to 2 tonnes of CO2 and the same ton of carbon nanotubes just half a ton of CO2, minimizing the carbon footprint.

What is the CarbonHouse project?

CarbonHouse is a project that seeks to replace the minerals and metals commonly used in the construction sector with structures based on carbon nanotubes, carbon or graphene derivatives. It also investigates how these carbon-based materials can act structurally, thermally and electrically as construction materials. Thus, the project seeks to validate materials produced from methane pyrolysis as structural and non-structural construction materials, as suggested by Mark Goulthorpe.

Camilo Merino explaining the energy systems of the project.

One of the key points of the project is the technology that will supply energy to this CarbonHouse. In this sense, graphene supercapacitors become the ideal solution by providing greater power and longer life than any other technology currently on the market, according to Dr. Camilo Merino, co-founder of Mindcaps. And this will ensure that energy needs are supplied with more efficient and sustainable sources.

The experts participating in the CarbonHouse project have even defined the paint that will decorate the walls of the house. Avoiding microplastics and toxins, the house of the future bets on Graphenstone paints, the Sevillian company that combines tradition and innovation by mixing artisanal lime with graphene technology to achieve a more durable paint, with greater coverage and CO2 absorption. Yet another example of how to help the environment with our purchasing decisions.

We are in time to do a prospecting and bet on more environmentally friendly raw materials. To do this, it will be necessary to work with architects and engineers on how to use and adapt these materials to their day-to-day work. Only in this way will we be able to get the most out of the change and we will be able to take advantage of the new paradigm that materials such as carbon nanotubes can offer. Only in this way we could decide our legacy as Humanity.