A team from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania envisions a bold new world where giant paper boats float off Santa Monica Pier, harnessing solar energy to revitalize California’s coastal ecology. Another finalist of LAGI 2016: Santa Monica, an international design competition that promotes renewable energy and public art, Paper Boats is designed to harness solar energy using concentrated photovoltaics (CPV), reflectors, and Holographic Planar Concentrator (HPC) technology. Unlike other energy and water-generating designs, this energy is redirected to accelerate coral growth. And if you are weary of designs that don’t yet exist, note that LAGI’s competition guidelines require all entries to be technologically and physically feasible. In this way, Paper Boats, The Pipe, and other LAGI designs symbolize potential applications of existing technology.


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“Throughout the years, over-hunting and over-fishing of some key species have allowed purple urchin to graze on the kelp without competition, Christopher Makrinos, Stephen Makrinos, and Alexander Bishop write in their design brief. “This has led to “urchin barrens,” which offer little in the way of genetic diversity, food, or nesting habitats. Paper Boats has reversed this trend by establishing pockets of coral and kelp (once commonplace here) within underwater “shipwreck” frames that anchor each boat to the historic breakwater.”

The team adds that in a process known as accretion, the “shipwrecks” mirror the sculptures above, promoting coral growth. A trickle of direct current electricity produced by the sails, or solar collectors, flows through the rebar, and accelerates coral growth that is said to be five times faster than normal. Paper Boats designers say that accretion was first observed by Wolf Hilbertz.

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Related: Solar-powered pipe desalinizes 1.5 billion gallons of drinking water for California

Every boat has four sails. The outer shell uses Fresnel lenses to direct light, while the sail as a whole acts as a concentrated photovoltaic collector. It has an annual capacity of 2,400 MWh. Holographic photovoltaic cells beneath the sails use laser-etched glazing and bi-facial silicone panels to harness sunlight from both directions “with incredible efficiency.” The iridescent sails refract light, a special bonus for people visiting Santa Monica Pier during sunset.

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“The solar panels are attached to a ceramic-cladded aluminum framework,” the designers continue. “The structure conceals the CPV conduits and acts as a passive heat sink. A trickle of energy is diverted to the “shipwrecks” before entering the main conduit.”

“This small charge provides a catalyst for coral growth, strengthening the local marine ecosystem.”

+ LAGI 2016: Santa Monica