Q & A with Armelle Coutant, Winner 2018 COINS Grand Challenge
Armelle Coutant, a student from Stanford University, USA, describes how winning the student competition of last year’s COINS Grand Challenge has helped her to develop her idea for bio-integrated marine construction.
Why did you enter the COINS Grand Challenge?
I entered the COINS Grand Challenge because I was drawn to its forward-thinking approach. I knew that pinpointing future innovations within the construction industry was a challenge that I could benefit immensely from. I was also extremely curious to discover the opinions of professionals as well as my peers regarding the future of our field.
Tell us more about your idea.
The environmental challenges that are increasingly present in our collective consciousness were the connecting thread between all of my interests in; ecology, neuroscience, architecture, design, engineering and human cultures. Getting involved in the built environment seemed to be a very concrete and interdisciplinary way to tackle the issues in how we produce, live and consume and find innovative solutions to ensure that we do so in as sustainable a way as possible.
As a result of climate change, ocean surface temperature is projected to rise by 2 degrees with the PH levels due to decrease by 0.2 units. The warmer and more acidic oceans are having a potentially irreversible impact on reefs worldwide, putting their energetic production and ultimately, survival at risk.
The key part of successful coral reef growth is the substrate that they have to attach on. Substrate is an important part of setting up a coral nursery. In the construction industry, attention is starting to draw towards the use of certain types of algae as a base for construction materials as the polymer properties of certain types of algae give strength all while maintaining core flexibility. Certain algae species are abundant in coastal areas and could be harvested sustainably as an alternative practise to support local fishery communities. For greater body and rigidity, algae extracts could be combined with crustose coralline algae (CCA), a type of algae which has been found to enhance coral binding to the substrate and subsequent successful growth.
This concept could not only reverse the negative impact on coral reefs by creating successful coral growth, but it could also play a vital role in reversing ocean acidification. With the potential to be harvested sustainably, the use of algae could go beyond coral protection, where algae extracts could be combined with ground, free floating plastic debris as an alternative construction material source. As a low cost, environmentally friendly option this idea would tackle the growing issue of plastic pollution in our oceans without the expensive cost, a barrier usually present in such projects.
Building on a previous awareness of new and upcoming biomaterials, a trip to Australia inspired me to begin researching about coral reefs, witnessing the complex shifts that climate change is driving and the subsequent impact on communities. The quest for a solution to this increasing threat spurred me to brainstorm an alternative approach to creating a marine construction material that would recycle free floating plastic debris, utilise algae polymers and serve over time as a substrate for ecological rehabilitation.
After formulating my idea, I found that initiatives such as ‘Boyan Slat’s ocean clean up mission’ reinforced the necessity for this development and my belief that people cared about the environment and were searching for innovative ways to protect it. I also give credit to the support of Stanford University throughout the process, which included allowing time off to attend the COINS Grand Challenge awards.
How has winning the COINS Grand Challenge helped you?
The COINS Grand Challenge helped coalesce my knowledge between the very different fields of Biology and Architecture. It gave me an opportunity to see that the work poured into my academic years could be of value to my professional career, and helped bolster my confidence and ignite my passion to continue drawing upon different disciplines to change the ways we think about the built environment.
Why would you recommend that people enter the 2019 COINS Grand Challenge?
There are never enough opportunities to brainstorm and dream up great ways for us to rise to the issues we face on a global scale. I would highly recommend that people enter the 2019 Grand Challenge as an opportunity to do so. The application in itself can be a highly fruitful thought experiment, and the means and attention that COINS puts into hosting the Grand Challenge conference are astounding and would be a shame to pass up on.
This award has immense meaning for me, it validates my ambitions and makes me incredibly hopeful that there exists strong interest within industries and institutions to shift mentalities and enact positive change.
How has COINS GrandChallenge opened up networking opportunities for you?
My experience at COINS Grand Challenge was absolutely incredible from start to finish. Beyond the astounding organisation and professionalism of the event, I was most thankful for the people I had a chance to interact with, the mentorship and advice so many were willing to confer. I especially want to mention how proud I was to meet such brilliant young people as my fellow finalists.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to pursue a Master’s degree but I’m also keen to be involved with green planning and urban development projects to further extend my knowledge and experience in bio-integrated construction and biomaterials.
Armelle is currently an undergraduate senior at Stanford University and due to graduate with two degrees: BS in Biology and an Engineering degree in architecture. The concept of combining different fields appears to be a common theme with this successful student, as her winning idea attempts to resolve several challenges simultaneously.
Could your idea improve the construction industry or the built environment? The 2019 COINS Grand Challenge is an opportunity to win funding of over £100k, business support and more.
COINS Grand Challenge is a global competition to support innovation within the construction industry. Open to anyone with ideas to improve construction - from reducing costs, increasing efficiency, improving sustainability, safety, quality or compliance throughout the built life cycle. The challenge has two entry categories, professional and undergraduate
Last year, 11 finalists represented 7 countries and a wide variety of ideas. The 2019 COINS Grand Challenge is now open for entries, with the deadline entries being 12 April – find out more and enter online at www.coins-grandchallenge.com