We desperately need more housing that is affordable, sustainable, and mass producible. Geoship thinks they’ve created exactly that, and have now actually built a full-scale “dome home” prototype using their advanced materials science and construction methodology.
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Way too many can’t afford homes right now, especially young people, and the homes we do build are generally horrible for the environment. Plus, the isolated wood boxes we build for people don’t tend to bring us closer together. Geoship is building sustainable bioceramic domes. They’re non-toxic, have a near-zero carbon footprint, are and designed to last 500 years. They’re also intended to be affordable, mass producible, and maybe even to be deployed in communities where people can live together, not apart.
Sounds idealistic? Maybe.
But the company has completed its first full-size prototype, has 500 orders, and is looking to enter full-scale production.
Check out the post on Forbes … or keep scrolling to watch/listen/read.
500-year eco-friendly ceramic dome home?
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100% non-toxic dome home that will eventually cost as little as $50/square foot, Geoship says
Here’s a full transcript of our conversation. It has has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
John Koetsier: Is there a solution to the housing crisis, our environmental crisis, and perhaps even our cultural crisis, all in one? Way too many people can’t afford homes right now, especially young people, and the homes that we do build are generally horrible for the environment. The isolated wood boxes that we put ourselves in don’t tend to bring us closer together, either.
Geoship might be fixing that: they’re building sustainable bioceramic domes that are non-toxic, have a near-zero carbon footprint, and are designed to last 500 years. They’re also intended to be affordable and mass-producible, and maybe even deployed in communities where people can live together, not apart.
Sounds idealistic, maybe even unrealistic? Well, possibly. But the company has completed its first full-size prototype, has 400 orders, and is looking to enter full-scale production soon. To learn more, we’re chatting with CEO and co-founder, Morgan Bierschenk.
Welcome to TechFirst, Morgan. Super pumped to have you. You’re here for the second time. For those who didn’t see the first one, talk about Geoship. What’s the vision here?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. The vision is mass manufacturing of affordable and regenerative homes and villages. So, we’re using a new material science to precast ceramic geodesic domes in two or three different sizes that interconnect with one another for a lot of different kind of living environments.
John Koetsier: So, it’s dome living, which is cool. You mentioned ceramic, talk a little bit more about that. Most people think of ceramic, they think of, I don’t know, a teacup, you know, maybe tiles on a space shuttle or something like that. Why ceramic? How are you building it? And how does it last 500 years?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. So, it’s a chemically bonded ceramic. So, it doesn’t require a high heat, like you think of ceramics normally requiring.
It’s really a new family of materials kind of related to geopolymers, if people are familiar with what those are, but essentially you’ve got kind of ceramic, cements and epoxies, and this material fits in the middle of all of them in that it’s like a ceramic and that it’s highly crystalline with covalent and ionic bonding … but like a cement in that it’s water-activated, and like an epoxy or polymer in that it forms molecular bonds with itself and all kinds of aggregates, like agricultural waste and, of course, fly ash.
We don’t use fly ash because you need more testing as to understand whether it leaches and the toxicity of fly ash. That’s kind of one of the key things of what we’re building is ceramic domes that are 100% non toxic. So there’s no wood, there’s no metal, there’s no concrete, there’s no petrochemicals. The frame is ceramic, the exterior is ceramic, and the interior is ceramic, and it’s filled with a healthy insulation material that could be wool or a cellular ceramic.
John Koetsier: Talk about what that gives you in a dome that you’re living in. Is that comfortable? Is that super insulated? How’s it so long-lasting, as well?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. So, you know, the dome shape like that built with ceramics, the way that we’re doing it, you have a very big insulation cavity. Like, this prototype that we installed has about a 10-inch thick insulation cavity. So, that’s a high R-value. And then also the ceramics reflect about 80% of radiant heat. So, it’s effective, you know, insulative effects that way. And then also the dome shape just reduces the surface area by about 30% to 50% compared to a rectangular structure, just because of reduced walls and roof or heat to escape.
John Koetsier: Yeah. That makes sense.
Morgan Bierschenk: And energy-efficient. And I think your other question was around the longevity. So, yeah.
Because it’s all-ceramic, there’s nothing to corrode, or rot, or burn. And it can be repaired and resurfaced with the same ceramic material. So, that really adds up to a potentially very, you know, 500-year kind of design life.
John Koetsier: Mm-hmm. Your vision isn’t just that you sell one of these for a typical suburban lot, although I assume that that will happen. But your vision is also to create communities, correct?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. I mean, the reason we’re doing this, in the first place, has a lot to do with village building, right? So, there’s so many of us out there today, myself included that have been kind of looking for your village, you know, looking for your tribe of people that you want to build community with and really connect with the land and have a place where your kids have many aunts and uncles around, and a village to kind of welcome them home for many generations into the future.
So, it’s definitely a post-climate change utopian future, and it feels like now is the time where there is going to be that post-climate change future. And, you know, whether it’s dystopian or utopian really depends on what we focus on now.
John Koetsier: So, talk about the size of the dome and how you accommodate if somebody has a larger family or more people that wanto to live in the same structure, what do you do? Do you have bigger domes? Do you add domes? What’s it look like?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. So, the smaller dome that we’re building is about an 18-foot now — it was 16-foot previously, we kind of expanded it a little bit in the prototyping process — it’s about 18-foot interior diameter and 20-foot exterior diameter. So, that gives you about 250 square feet. It’s just like a big bedroom, basically. And you can also fit a half loft in that.
So, it can get up to maybe 400 square feet in a small dome.
And then the bigger dome will be about, which we haven’t built yet, we’ll probably install a few hundred of the smaller domes before we even start producing the bigger dome. But the bigger dome will be about a 30-foot exterior diameter, 28-foot interior, which gives you about… [mumbling: let’s see my math] … right about 700 square feet on the bottom floor and another 300 square feet on the top floor.
So, when you have those two building blocks, I mean, if you connect two big domes, you’re at about 2,000 square feet. If you connect a big dome with two small domes, it’s like 1,500 square feet or so. And that’s the key is that there, you can have one big dome that has up to five small domes connected to it, or all these constellations of…
John Koetsier: Which is pretty interesting, actually, you have really interesting possibilities to have like a living room, a great room, a kitchen or something like that, a communal area. And then, you know, a couple bedrooms, maybe a library, maybe an entertainment room, or something like that. Pretty interesting.
Now, you mentioned that you built the smaller prototype, and that’s actually why we’re talking because we talked about a year ago, you had the vision, you were working through the material science and all the other components, and pieces, and location, and all that stuff.
Now, you’ve actually built one. Talk about that process.
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah.
You know, we’re kind of innovating at three different levels at one time, which is a little unusual, in that, we’re developing a material science, and a product design, and the manufacturing technology, kind of all at once.
And pretty much look at almost anything else out there, like, a couple of those variables are set.
So, we have like tons of freedom, which also means tons of testing that’s required to figure out which path is the right one. So, you know, that’s really… This dome that we installed, it was really, the goal was not to build the product that’s going to go in your backyard. The goal was to get into, like, a phase of hyperlearning, right? So, experimenting as much as we can to kind of learn more about the whole manufacturing technology, and the product design, and the material science.
John Koetsier: Yeah. And there’s so much to learn as you’re saying. I mean, not just manufacturing, but how to assemble it, how to put it together, how to ship it, all those other things that, in the traditional world of home building, are solved, right? People know, okay, there’s sticks, 2 by 4s, right? There’s sheetrock, drywall, we ship that, flat pack it. There we go, right? You know, other things, roofing material, there you go. And all this stuff comes in packages, and all of it gets shipped. And you’ve got to figure all of that out because you’ve got a non-standard product, and non-standard sizing, and a non-standard assembly method, correct?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. Non-standard but potentially much, much easier, in that, you know, so our goal is we’re setting up microfactories that can be really highly automated because it’s just ceramic components. You’re just making a set of ceramic components that are flat packed, and shipped to the site, and designed in a way that is supposed to help owner builders do the installation.
I mean, there can be … or there will be Geoship certified installers, but it’s really the potential for owner builders to do the installation. Which, you know, an interesting comparison is like last year in the U.S., there were 500 billion concrete blocks made … 500 billion. It’s a huge number, you know? And it’s like those concrete blocks, each one is roughly the same weight and volume of a ceramic geodesic component.
You can imagine, if we put the kind of innovation that has gone into concrete block making for the last hundred years into ceramic dome making, we could … 500 billion concrete blocks would be like a billion homes in one year produced, if we can get to that. It’s like the scalability is kind of at another level of what we think is what’s possible today with building technologies.
John Koetsier: So, you said a couple things in there that are potentially game-changing. One is the owner-build, and I wanna get to that in a moment.
The first is microfactories. I mean, our traditional means of manufacturing things is build the factory bigger, make it bigger, automate more, right? Make a giant factory, pump more through it in high volume and make it cheaper. How will microfactories work? And why are you going in that direction?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. So, the microfactory automation is really coming out strongly from the EV transition now. And, you know, a traditional factory is more like an assembly line, whereas a microfactory has many kind of cells that produce different components and can be kind of reconfigured quickly. So, highly automated microcells, and there might be many cells in a microfactory.
So our goal is really like community-owned microfactories.
John Koetsier: That’s really interesting. And it’s really actually kind of a neat trend as well is that you produce stuff near to where it gets used. You don’t spend a lot of money traveling… transporting it over oceans and over land and everything like that. So you can bring the materials to where the people are easily, and quickly, and fairly inexpensively.
Now, you also mentioned the owner-build, and that’s… I mean, the tradition you’re kind of coming into as Geoship is this eco-build, which has a long history of people building their own homes — whether that’s with tires, whether that’s with bottles, whether that’s a rammed earth home, or something like that, a thatched home, straw bale home, those sorts of things — and there’s something really appealing about that, right?
I mean, I want to design my own home, I want to build my own home, and I feel ownership. Talk about that trend and why you want to be part of that.
Morgan Bierschenk: So, couple of reasons, one, because it does give you that feeling of just, like, not only you building it but your village building it together. I mean, it’s such a community-building act of just coming together to build a home together.
And the home building process with bioceramic domes is closer to like assembling a piece of Ikea furniture or something. I mean, you just have a bunch of premade parts that only go together one way and there’s no cutting and measuring and any of that.
And, you know, if you look at kind of the history of the geodesic dome in the modern century, it comes from this place of like back-to-the-land movement of people wanting to build their own homes. And the geodesic just fits that well, because of the way that it’s constructed. It’s just like a beautiful experience to put the thing together. And the other side of that is, like, okay, so if we could actually scale to where the concrete block industry is, 500 billion block geodesic components a year in a billion homes, there’d be no one to install them if they needed specialized roofs, right? So, designing something for the owner-builder was also like designing something for the generalist, in a sense, that can support that.
John Koetsier: Right, right. Talk about cost. That’s one of the aspects that you’re trying to address. And it’s something that’s really, really important. Not only is there an epidemic of homelessness in North America, frankly, and probably globally as well. There’s also a huge cohort of young people in their late teens to early 30s who are looking at housing markets that have just absolutely jumped, skyrocketed in price, over the past couple years, especially, but even for a decade or more behind that. And they’re thinking, “I can’t possibly get into that market. I will never own a home.”
And there’s some despair over that. There’s some real despair over that. Talk about cost, what you’re able to achieve right now, and what your goals are.
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. So, I think it’s a good time to clarify that what we can achieve right now is, we haven’t set up a factory yet. So, that’s kind of the next phase that we’re fundraising for now, is to set up the factory.
And when the factory first turns on, the base price of a bigger dome will be about a $100,000, and the base price of a small dome will be about $30,000. Once you do the installation and the interior finishings, you’re at, like, maybe about 15… maybe $160 a square foot kind of range. But once… it’s like Tesla starting out with the Roadster, right? Like, as the manufacturing scales, there’s the potential for that price to go way down, like to a third, just because we’re literally getting raw minerals from a commodities market and creating components that are…
So it’s bypassing all kinds of supply chains that are currently relied upon in the building industry. So it’s definitely the potential for just radically more affordable housing through this factory tech manufacturing.
John Koetsier: And that brings to mind a question, what about site preparation? Do I need a traditional foundation? Do I have to have that poured? What’s that look like?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. We’re designing the domes to fit on a few different foundations, from like a stem wall to a slab foundation to a helical pier, or elevated platform kind of foundation. So, basically the same kind of foundations that you’d use today. This prototype that we just installed, it’s a set of foundation blocks that are also ceramic that create sort of a stem wall-type foundation that’s a little lower … it’s not a big concrete floor.
John Koetsier: Yep. Yep. So I saw on your website, you’ve sold, pre-sold 400 orders. Talk about, A, the process of ordering and, B, what you’re going to be doing to fulfill those and enter a phase of mass production.
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. Yeah, you know, we haven’t… Since we raised capital, pretty much like 98% of that has gone into design and engineering, not marketing, not creating hype.
So, yeah, there’s about 500 pre-orders at this point. We closed the pre-order window a few weeks ago and we’ll be opening it up again relatively soon. And the process is kind of similar to like how, again, Tesla is doing pre-orders. It’s like a $99 refundable pre-order, and it just kind of reserves your spot in line.
And then when we get closer to our manufacturing window, people will be able to turn the pre-orders into orders and configure their domes. And the… [pause] yeah, I’ll leave it there.
John Koetsier: [Laughing] I’m gonna press you a little bit on that. What do you think the timeline is around that?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. So we’re aiming to be in pilot production. So, we’re taking everything we learned from this first prototype install and just like designing for your backyard, basically. And then go into kind of a pilot production phase in about 12 months that is a few domes a month, or one to three domes a month, that is just to get the product out there and get people to experience it and see how it does in the field.
And then we’re about three years, let’s say, two to four years. It’s a little hard to predict at this stage, like, companies often make really optimistic projections, and then it’s like you go into kind of a manufacturing hell, in a sense, just learning so much as you go. So I hate to put too much timeline out there, but about two to four-year time horizon until we’re in like a more volume production.
John Koetsier: Yeah. Production hell brings to mind the company that you’ve mentioned a couple times, Tesla. And some of the predictions [laughing] that have come out of that company, and particularly the founder of that company… Where’s my self-driving taxi?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah [laughter].
John Koetsier: So, that is interesting and that is cool. It is out there. It is a ways out there. But at least you’re not promising, “Hey, in 6 months, in 18 months, or something like that,” and then failing to deliver on that. I’m guessing while you’re going through this era of designing for manufacturer ability, you know, this where you’re going to get to one to three domes a month, that sort of thing, you’re also kind of designing the microfactory. Am I right?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah, totally. Yeah. It’s just a natural step in developing the microfactory automation technology.
John Koetsier: So, let’s say you get the microfactory correct, what’s the manufacturing capacity, in your thinking right now, of one microfactory?
Morgan Bierschenk: One microfactory, we’re thinking now is on the scale of like 100,000 to 200,000 square feet. And it’s producing, maybe 300 domes a month of the smaller dome. So the bigger dome would be more like if it’s 300 small domes it’s like 100 or 150 bigger domes.
And that’s, like I said, just the beginning because it’s just casting these ceramic components and factories and stacking them onto pallets for shipping can be extremely efficient. And one of the things with the ceramic is just, it’s got a flash cure, right? So, it’s like, from the time that the material hits the mold, you can de-mold in anywhere from like 30 minutes at the high, or maybe 45 minutes at the high end if we need to stretch it, but at the low end, like three minutes.
So it can be really efficient mass production kind of process.
John Koetsier: Wow. Interesting. And I just realized that microfactory means different things to different people. 100,000 to 200,000 feet doesn’t sound that micro, but I’m guessing when you’re talking actual factories — which, I’m not in that world — that is small.
And then I guess what your plan will be is, hey, you can get one of these microfactories up and running. You can dot them around the world now, correct?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. And I should clarify that a 100,000 square foot microfactory would probably have 10 to 20 cells, production cells within it, right? So, there’s a potential to take a cell and just have it 5,000 or 10,000 square foot factory.
But just, you do the math and what we’re… how far they’d need to be spaced and whatnot to make any sort of dent in the housing market, then, you know, 100,000 to 200,000 square feet is like a microfactory outside of most major cities. And that gets us like some dent in the housing industry.
John Koetsier: Sounds good. Talk a little bit about the ownership model. You are seeking investors. It is not a traditional corporation, though, if I’m not mistaken. What would the ownership model be? And how, let’s say, somebody catches this vision and says, “You know what? I want a microfactory in Romania. I want a microfactory in Argentina,” or something like that. Can they do something like that? Can you do something like that? How’s that work?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. Well, we felt it was really important that Geoship starts as like a grassroots project.
So instead of getting venture capitalists on board, we went through equity crowdfunding and made it so that people could invest a minimum of like, I think, $380. So we have thousands of investors from our first round, and we’re doing another fundraise now to raise more capital from thousands more investors. And Geoship is… it’s pretty much a C-corp, standard corporation. It’s actually technically a social purpose corporation, so it’s like a C-corp with a purpose written into the charter.
But our goal is to transition into a multi-stakeholder cooperative. So it’s basically like a decentralized, to some extent, in that the kind of conventional stakeholder groups are like employees and investors own companies. We’re expanding that to customers have ownership and nature has ownership.
So, to four stakeholder groups that come into co-ownership and co-governance. And then the growth strategy around like a microfactory in a Peru or whatever, is we work with a local community, local founders to set up a factory and it’s like co-owned between the local community and Geoship. It’s kind of a franchise model, but more with this multi-stakeholder cooperative addition to it, or…
John Koetsier: Yes. I almost smell blockchain there but, of course, that’s not necessary for exactly what you’re doing.
Morgan Bierschenk: It’s pretty, pretty much. Like, the multi-stakeholder cooperative is pretty much the analog version of a DAO, decentralized autonomous organization.
talk Very good. Okay, so you’ve given a timeline of two to four years when you’ll be in production. Is that basically the timeline when somebody can, you know, go into your website, click ‘Buy Now,’ order it and get it shipped in a month, or a week, or something like that?
Morgan Bierschenk: Well, so I mentioned we have 500 pre-orders, like, almost very little marketing. So, if people want a dome in any kind of near future, you should go and pre-order now because it basically reserves your spot in line. When we start manufacturing in four years, we’ll probably have tens of thousands of pre-orders and it’ll take us a few years to just catch up with the pre-orders that come in. So, get on the pre-order list now for…
John Koetsier: Hint, hint [laughs].
Morgan Bierschenk: …four or five years.
John Koetsier: Okay. Interesting. Good stuff, Morgan. Thanks so much for taking this time. Do appreciate it. Hope that somewhat easier times are ahead. I know you had all the challenges figuring out how to make it work, and the material science and all that stuff. And I guess, you know what? It doesn’t get any easier. I’m sorry, I’m going to pop that bubble right now just by myself [laughing]. Figuring out manufacturing ability and scaling is one of the harder challenges of business, correct?
Morgan Bierschenk: Yeah. But, you know, it’s about hiring really, really smart people. So at least the challenge gets distributed. When you first start a company, it’s like all the challenges are with you and then…
John Koetsier: Yes.
Morgan Bierschenk: It’s not easier, but more distributed as things go on.
John Koetsier: Very good. Have a great day. Thanks so much.
Morgan Bierschenk: Okay. Thanks so much, John. Bye-bye.
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