Circulate on Fridays: roman concrete, algae shoes and oyster shells

Publication Date: 

Friday, 7 July 2017 - 1:27pm


Joe Iles

We’ve cast a wide net for this week’s Circulate on Fridays. In the catch: urban mobility systems, blockchain, history lessons from Chris Kutarna and Roman builders, and a few seashells, naturally.

When we’re always on the look out for the latest technology that’s changing the world, it’s easy to forget that a historical perspective can help make sense of big socio-economic change. But one chap who keeps this front of mind is Chris Kutarna, author of Age of Discovery. Chris spoke to Lifehacker this week, sharing his view that we’re living in an era of renaissance, and as such should muster our ‘intellectual horsepower’ to manage and respond to complex changes.

One topic that usually requires some intellectual horsepower is blockchain, the technology that powers Bitcoin. If you’re one of those people who sheepishly nods when the subject comes up, and tentatively says things like ‘distributed ledger’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ and ‘peer to peer’, then you’re not alone. Take a look at Goldman Sachs scrolly storytelling guide to the technology to get a better handle on how Blockchain works, and more importantly, what it can actually be used for.

Find out why New York and London are aiming to become circular cities. Image: © Melpomene /

A couple of pieces from New York highlight how changes in our mobility system should be guided by systems thinking. Luke Ohlson’s time lapse video, showing people swarming a bike share dock while cars sit idle across the street, has inspired debate on Citylab about how intensively different forms of transport are used, and how we could redesign urban spaces to reflect changing patterns. Over on DNAinfo, Amy Zimmer gets stuck into rebound effects: does the explosion of ride hailing and delivery services undermine efforts to combat congestion, pollution and waste? Right now, the answer seems to be ‘yes’. But could a circular economy framework help integrate these innovations to support the shift to more liveable cities? City planners in New York think so, as we found out on Circulate earlier this year.

If this summer finds you slurping oysters at the coast, give a thought to the seven million tonnes of shells discarded by the seafood industry each year. What’s currently seen as a waste problem could be an economic opportunity, as EurekAlert found this week. Shells are an example of an impressive biomaterial – just AskNature – and could have a number of applications after leaving your plate, namely being used in the agricultural sector as an alternative to mined calcium carbonate.

Have you seen Vivobarefoot’s striking algae shoe yet? The amphibious Ultra III isn’t just good in the water, it’s actually made from ‘Bloom Foam’, a material that’s created by harvesting algal biomass from freshwater sources at high risk of algal bloom. Each pair filters 57 gallons of water back into a natural system, so you’re probably thinking they’re the perfect shoes for a circular economy. But keep in mind that the algae is currently mixed with ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), and fusing biological and technical materials together can do more harm than good in the long run. Bloom say that a biodegradable version is possible – let’s hope the technology can open up new possibilities in the future.

In a circular economy, materials fall into technical or biological cycles. Get the full picture are the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website

Starting where we left off, scientists have unlocked the science behind the resilience of Roman concrete, as reported in the Guardian. Despite our modern know-how, today’s Portland cement is prone to erosion through chemical reactions. New research from an international team of geologists has shown how Roman concrete actually hardened through exposure to the elements. Marie Jackson, of the University of Utah:

“I think [the research] opens up a completely new perspective for how concrete can be made – that what we consider corrosion processes can actually produce extremely beneficial mineral cement and lead to continued resilience, in fact, enhanced perhaps resilience over time.”

That’s all for this week’s Circulate on Fridays! Check in next week for new circular economy news and insight.

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