Gallery: Algae Hydrogen Balloon Fuel by 20/2 Collaborative


While the hydrogen fuel cell might not be viable for commercial vehicles for years, here’s some hope for the promising element. A group of Philadelphia-based creatives known as the 20/2 Collaborative have designed a unique concept that enables on-site production and distribution of biologically produced hydrogen fuel for vehicles. This plan mixes algae ponds with floating balloons to integrate fuel production and distribution into the local landscape and allows the renewable fuel to be created and distributed from the same place. This may sound a little complicated, but the renderings sure look amazing. Who knew that fuel production could look like so much fun?

The idea builds off the work of several research groups, including scientists at UC Berkeley, who are currently focused on the production of hydrogen from algae. It also recognizes the promise of fuel-efficient, non-polluting transportation in the telling crop of hydrogen concepts rolling out from automakers like GM, Honda, VW, Mercedes, and Ford.

While hydrogen is fast becoming the fuel of the future, storage and distribution have been a challenge. Hydrogen has large containment requirements and, in the US, refilling stations exist only in LA, New York, and DC. The 20/2 Collaborative concept embraces the storage requirements of hydrogen and integrates the fuel supply into the visible built environment. The result is a clean, human-scale infrastructure that connects user to source in an environmentally sound encounter.

The concept was originally designed for application in Reykjavik, Iceland, as part of the Vatnsmýri Urban Planning Competition to further the country’s commitment to renewable energy and position as an environmental leader. The 20/2 Collaborative developed a prototype algae pond and balloon that could produce and store hydrogen for use by up to 12 vehicles. Specifically, researchers estimate that a pond with a 10-meter diameter will provide enough hydrogen weekly for 12 cars.

The idea is clean, renewable hydrogen fuel from algae locally grown and part of the urban planning process. The 20/2 Collaborative concept is a new kind of “fenceline” community – one where proximity to fuel production, storage, and distribution becomes a natural experience in sync with biological processes and free from environmental degradation.

+20/2 Collaborative

+University of California Energy Institute


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  1. physalis October 26, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    No cowcow your wrong. The Hindenburg is not kept at high pressure. It would not float if was. I find the irrational fear that still exist so long after the accident a bit ridiculous. People don’t even think twice about having large quantities of highly combustible gasoline in the car but slap the label of hydrogen and everyone becomes a little nonsensical.

  2. dr s n maity February 20, 2008 at 3:20 am

    its great. simply great. i would be glad to know about the storage system
    the rate leaking rather howmuch leak proof it is
    the use of hydrogen is vast in future not only as car fuel
    it can do much greater job in different form in near future
    dr s n maity
    scientist, csir, india

  3. Jim February 14, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Coulld the dead algae still be processed for the oil?

  4. Tastey December 13, 2007 at 3:16 am

    GreyFlcn… hydrogen from algae is inefficient in these early stages of research, but think about how long the electrolysis fuel cells have been around and the energy balance of that process is not even close to economical feasibility. Furthermore, claiming biodeisel production from algae is stupid should require a little more backing research. Algae’s oil per weight is extremely higher than those of other biodiesel feed stocks (ie soy, rapeseed); some have recorded orders of magnitude higher. Why not pursue a feedstock that will not take up our ‘normal’ agricultural land (for food and such), with the potential to clean up emissions (CO2 and NOx) and sewage water (Nitrogen) by using them to grow. I am excited for the future of microalgae as a starting point for green fuels. Also, hot water is really low grade power; a power plant would not go too far running on hot water.

  5. Andrew December 3, 2007 at 10:31 am

    This balloon reminds me of Stewie Griffan’s head.

  6. - techno... December 3, 2007 at 6:15 am

    […] zeigt uns eine mögliche zukunft der energie. in farmen erzeugen algen aus sonnenlicht wasserstoff, der gleich direkt in balloons gesammelt und zur verwendung als energiespender gelagert wird. […]

  7. Jon December 2, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    bang…. boom…. whups

  8. GreyFlcn December 2, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    The other stupid thing
    This thing assumes it’s using heated water from Iceland.

    Why not just use that hot water to run a geothermal power plant…..?

    Obviously this concept is more form than substance.

  9. GreyFlcn December 2, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Wow, this is just stupid.

    1. Hydrogen from Algae respiration is amazingly inefficient.

    2. Using algae to create any sort of biofuel involves a fundamental lack of knowledge about the thermodynamics and economics involved.

  10. Michael December 2, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    One word:
    One of these things in a mere 20mph wind would be flailing all over the place, dragging and crashing into everything nearby until the h2 leaks out and starts a fire or explosion.

  11. Mike C December 2, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    two words – tracer bullet

  12. Brent December 2, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Two words: tracer rounds

  13. J December 2, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Part of what made the Hinderburg so volatile was the thermite reaction that took place between oxygen in the air, and iron in the paint on the balloon. So saying that the explosion was purely hydrogen is not true.

  14. Chat Marchet News Diges... December 2, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    […] It gets better, click here for the story. This entry was posted on Sunday, December 2nd, 2007 at 2:15 pm and is filed under le Chat Marchet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. […]

  15. Thygrrr December 2, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    The Hindeburg did not explode. Hydrogen burns quickly, with an invisible flame.

    The Explosion came from the standard Fuel (Diesel?) that was used for its engines. The flames came from the burning fabric that formed the hull of the airship.

  16. »... November 30, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    […] Via: Inhabitat […]

  17. Cas November 29, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    The concepts base is hot water being abundant in Iceland, known for its many hot geisers and warmwater-sources. How much extra energy would be needed if such a free supply of warmth is not available, let’s say in the rest of the world.

  18. q21 November 27, 2007 at 11:45 am


    great conversation! I stand corrected on ‘touching’ the flame but check this out…

    “Hydrogen Safety Report–Recently Sandia National Laboratory has been studying hydrogen jet flames to learn more about their shape and heat radiation. Their experimentation has helped them develop a model to predict radiation heat flux at various points in space and time from hydrogen flames. By understanding the characteristics of hydrogen jet flames, we may soon be able to better judge the necessary separation distance between hydrogen storage and other flammable materials and public spaces.

    The photos show vertical and horizontal flames from a jet out of a 5/16” orifice with a peak flow of about 2000 Standard Cubic Feet/min (SCFM).

    Compared to the combustion of a fuel like gasoline, hydrogen flames radiate much less heat. That is, you can stand or have flammable materials much closer to the flame itself without as much risk of a burn or fire hazard compared to many other fuels. To determine the varying level of safety in regions around the hydrogen flame, Sandia mapped and modeled hydrogen flame heat flux values as a function of position and time. Sandia’s model is based on data taken from large-scale flames at the SRI Test Facility, and literature review. ”

    In the end, any fuel storage is a risk. No argument there. But I tell you what, had that Russian tanker that recently spilled countless barrels of crude into the ocean been filled with H2 they wouldn’t have to deal with an ecological disaster that will take nature ages to overcome. Any alternative to that is worth investigating.

  19. Algae Hydrogen Balloon ... November 27, 2007 at 7:26 am

    […] While the hydrogen fuel cell might not be viable for commercial vehicles for years, here’s some hope for the promising element. A group of Philadelphia-based creatives known as the 20/2 Collaborative have designed a unique concept that enables on-site production and distribution of biologically produced hydrogen fuel for vehicles. This plan mixes algae ponds with floating balloons to integrate fuel production and distribution into the local landscape, and allow the renewable fuel to be created and distributed from the same place. This may sound a little complicated, but the renderings sure look amazing. Who knew that fuel production could look like so much fun? read more […]

  20. El Tamiz : Gasolineras ... November 27, 2007 at 5:25 am

    […] saber más: Noticia en Inhabitat. El texto de Gasolineras de algas , por Pedro Gómez-Esteban, salvo donde se mencione […]

  21. Mike November 27, 2007 at 1:15 am

    Okay, this is getting off topic now, but I think I see a very interesting possibility. By combining a fuel cell with an electrolyzer, it would be possible to create a system that is self contained, with very little input of hydrogen needed during normal operation. The idea is called the unitized regenerative fuel cell, and seems to hold several advantages over other implementations of hydrogen. For one thing, it doesn’t necessarily require any shipping of hydrogen or refueling directly. It would probably be possible to replace escaped hydrogen with water, and then electrolyze it using household power. The biggest problem would be that it would refuel more slowly than other hydrogen engines, but a single night of recharging would probably give more range than current battery powered cars. It might also be problematic to recapture and store the water produced as a byproduct, which would be needed if you wanted to keep electrolyzing without having to add more water. I think this idea has potential because it is effectively a battery with very high energy density. I have no idea about the ultimate feasibility of the system, but it seems promising, especially since it doesn’t require a huge infrastructure change to support it.

  22. Mike November 27, 2007 at 12:30 am

    Update: I found a pamphlet that deals with most of the concerns I stated earlier. It is quite specific. The low ignition temperature is not a problem, since a static discharge is about 10mJ anyway, plenty to ignite any common fuel. The high dispersion rate of hydrogen is actually a good thing unless it is in a closed space, since the gas more quickly reaches non-explosive concentration. The minimum explosive concentration of gas vapor is lower than that of hydrogen. The low infrared radiation also means that it is on average harder to burn yourself from a hydrogen flame, even though direct contact is worse the dangerous area is smaller. It would probably be possible to dope hydrogen with an agent to make the flame more visible and give it a bad smell like they do with methane (not from the new source, this occurred to me on further thought), though this may decrease it’s efficiency and environmental friendliness. A fuel leak test on a hydrogen car caused a gout of flame to shoot into the air, while the same test with gasoline caused the car to become a flaming wreck in the same a mount of time. I guess hydrogen isn’t as much of a write-off as I indicated in my previous post, but it still leaks more easily than other gases, and may become needless transitional stage if battery technology advances sufficiently to match it’s energy density for automotive purposes. (http://www(dot)plugpower(dot)com/technology/Hydrogen%20Brochure(dot)pdf)

  23. Mike November 27, 2007 at 12:02 am

    Actually, H2 is much more flammable and explosive than most other gases. It is explosive in concentrations ranging from 4% to 75% molarity, meaning that even quite diffuse or conecntrated gas can still explode. Compare this to a range of 5-17% for methane (natural gas). Also, the ignition temperature for H2 is about .017 millijoules, while that of methane is .274 mJ meaning even a slight spark of static electricity has the potential to ignite it. Finally, the flame temperature of H2 is 2045 degrees C, while methane is 1325 degrees C, hardly “cool to the touch,” it’s also nearly invisible in daylight and emits little infrared radiation, making it very difficult to feel until your skin actually contacts the flame (in light of this it is understandable that q21 was mistaken). To add insult to injury, hydrogen’s small molecular size makes it leak more easily and more quickly than other gases (2.8 times faster than methane). I took this info from a pro hydrogen economy site, it also cited hydrogen’s successful use by NASA and other organizations, and included a dismissal of the Hindenburg incident. I want to note that the primary cause or the Hindenburg disaster is by no means uncontroversial (Mythbusters and Seconds from Disaster both concluded that the skin of the craft burned too slowly to be responsible). And just because the professionals at NASA can handle hydrogen safely doesn’t mean I would trust everyone who might self-serve H2 at the pump not to mess up at least a few times a year, it would only take someone rubbing a polyester sleeve on a cotton pant leg a few times to build a charge in dry conditions. (www(dot)humboldt(dot)edu/~serc/h2safety(dot)html)

    Other than that, I am happy to see a way of producing hydrogen that doesn’t involve stripping it off of fossil fuels or obtaining it through energy intensive hydrolysis. And it really does look quite elegant. I think Hydrogen has potential to take over some industrial applications as an energy carrier, but I don’t see it becoming the fuel everyone uses in their car or the basis of an entire “hydrogen economy.”

  24. I New Idea Homepage &ra... November 26, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    […] [source] […]

  25. CowCow November 26, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Yea, the pressure would be so grate that it would all escape at a very, very fast pace, like the Hindenburg …

  26. Balão de hidrog&... November 26, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    […] Via Inhabitat […]

  27. Scott November 26, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    I agree with Al. It’s only “so much fun” until one of these things ignites.

  28. q21 November 26, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    AJ: It is a common misconception that hydrogen is ultra dangerous or any more dangerous than what is widely available today. Kept under pressure it can be more volatile but as I understand this proposal the capture is using the extreme buoyancy of H2 to fill the balloons. Should the balloon rupture or become ignited the H2 would dissipate so fast I doubt it would be any more dangerous than a natural gas leak. I also think the flame from H2 to be cool enough to touch. One reason for the fear of H2 has been the much associated with the Hindenburg, it is also been cleared of major responsibility in that incident. I do agree however that with any form of fuel safety is an issue but the idea of decentralizing fuel distribution coupled with a renewable source seems to hold some potential.

  29. Al November 26, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    So, what are the safety precautions to be made so that these giant balloons of flammable gas somehow are not ignited? Looks like a promising technology for hydrogen capture, but I think the storage medium needs to be rethought.

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