Algae isn't just a bunch of seaweed: it's an amazing natural resource that can power everything from a light bulb to an entire city. New technology is exploring the various uses of algae to fuel big and small things cleanly, and scientists are asking whether a whole city could be run on algae, or if algae could power devices ranging from night lights to aircraft. The result of these inquiries is a wide array of solutions that can help us harness the power of this phenomenal plant to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to power our modern world.
Algae has many different qualities that we can draw upon, from edible varieties that make their way onto our dinner plates, to those whose bioluminescence can be harnessed for glow-in-the-dark technology. Algae regenerates quickly, and as one of the most abundant plants on the planet, it is one of our greatest sources of oxygen. Read on to learn about ten of the most innovative algae-powered designs that have been created recently, from miniature to gargantuan.
1. Algae-Powered Dinosaur Nightlight
California company Yonder Biology has harnessed natural bioluminescence to create the Dino Pet; an algae-filled night light fuelled by the sun. It’s a great way to introduce children to the wonders of nature, teaching them how the dinoflagellate algae inside the plastic shell absorbs sunlight during the day in order to glow in the dark. Special food is added to the water within every couple of months to keep the algae thriving, and with diligent care, Dino could keep glowing indefinitely.
2. Algae-Powered LED Light Bulb
Algae’s luminescence has also been harnessed in a product that may be far more useful to the general public. Designer Gyula Bodonyi has created the Algaebulb; a light bulb in which the algae within fuels an LED via the oxygen it emits as it grows. Since algae thrive on carbon dioxide, the bulb also helps to lessen greenhouse gases, and cleans the air in its immediate vicinity by sucking it in through an air outlet in the polycarbonate shell. Although the teardrop-shaped bulb is quite small, its potential impact is enormous: an extraordinary amount of energy could be saved if everyone in North America installed just a few of these in their homes.
3. Algae Musical Jelly
How would you feel if your dessert suddenly started playing music? Noisy Jelly, a project by French students Marianne Cauvard and Raphaël Pluvinage may forever change our view of jellies: they’ve molded red algae (agar-agar) into a variety of geometric shapes, which were then placed on a sensor board. Every time a jelly was touched, its movement created different sounds, depending on the amount of pressure used and the motion of each wobbly piece.
4. The Algae Curtain
French studio Loop.pH created a living textile installation called The Algae Curtain-a as part of the Energy Futures Project, which consisted of large transparent tubes that were woven into curtains and hung in large windows. The algae that was pumped through the drapery absorbed sunshine during the day and used it to photosynthesize a biofuel. Since microscopic algae flourishes so very quickly (nearly ten times faster than any tree), it can be used to create a startling amount of oil that can be used in countless ways. The fruit-like capsules hanging from the curtain contain the algae blooms, and might give us a glimpse at what batteries of the future may look like.
5. “Algaerium” Living Surfaces and Textiles
Architect and textile designer Marin Sawa has created a series of living surfaces and textiles that both cultivate and produce green energy in the form of algae. Harnessing algae’s photosynthesis, Sawa designed The Algaerium to react and respond to its surroundings, exhibiting startling light and color displays that most people would never have associated with this humble plant. Sawa wished to explore algae’s potential as a beneficial design in the urban environment, especially as we move towards new, eco-conscious innovations to light and power our urban spaces.
6. Algae-Powered Bio-photovoltaic Panels
When you think of algae and moss, does renewable energy immediately spring to mind? Well, a team of researchers and designers from Cambridge University are working on the development of bio-photovolaic (BPV) devices fuelled by moss and algae. When those tiny, fast-growing plants photosynthesize, they create a startling amount of energy; that energy can be extracted to power photovoltaic panels, which in turn can be used to power… well, just about anything. Since algae regenerates so very quickly, this kind of technology could be a brilliant alternative to silicon-based solar panels, which are both resource-heavy to develop, and expensive to create. Imagine an algae-filled bedside table powering your lamp and recharging your phone, or a moss panel on your kitchen wall fuelling your stove. On a large scale, an array of algae-powered solar panels could power entire swathes of a city, or provide power to remote villages.
7. Portable Algae Breathing Pavilions
Cities are getting more polluted by the day, and people around the world are suffering from the ill effects of air pollution. Designer Ádám Miklósi has created a fresh air pavilion that he’s named Chlorella, which harnesses chlorella algae’s super-ability to transform exhaled Co2 into fresh, breathable oxygen. A walk through the Chlorella pavilion would allow people a few moments of “oxygen therapy”, where they could have a few minutes of respite from the busy outside world. Inside, teflon membranes create a quiet environment that drowns out noise and other distractions, giving visitors the ability to relax and breathe easily, if only for a short time. At the center of the pavilion is a fountain that channels several cubic meter’s worth of oxygen-producing algae, and that fountain is surrounded by several chairs in a semi-circle, where visitors can sit and relax before heading back out into the fray.
8. Algae Fuel-Powered Aircraft
One might not immediately think of jet fuel when algae is mentioned, but the European aerospace company EADS, or Airbus, has invented an algae fuel-powered aircraft. The fuel used by the twin-engine Diamond DA 42 is partially provided by 100 percent algae biofuel, which has such a high energy content that the plane uses 1.5 fewer litres of fuel than conventional planes. These airbuses aren’t commercially available just yet, but the EADS is hopeful that these green planes may play a significant role in future air travel.
9. Algae-Powered Building
It’s difficult for a structure to be much greener than this algae-powered building in Hamburg, Germany, designed by Splitterwerk Architects. Its entire facade is covered in shutters filled with bio-reactive micro-algae, which create heat that’s harvested and used to power the structure. It’s a great source of clean, renewable energy, and the louvers that house the living algae not only encourage the plants within to flourish—they also provide shade for the building’s interior… which in turn reduces the need for air conditioning or ceiling fans.
10. Algae-Powered Eco-City
Plans for an eco-city in Sweden are underway thanks to Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto, co-founders of EcoLogicStudio in London. They’re exploring the possibility of using algae on a city-wide scale via the Algae Farm; a town that centers around all things algae-related, from tourism to research and production. Unused ports around the Swedish coast will be transformed into greenhouses that can be used to cultivate algae for fuel, and “migro towers” can be installed near lakes and rivers. These towers will grow varieties of algae that are specifically to be used for food and fuel, and they’ll also provide safe nesting areas for water birds, and rest stops for tourists using the numerous bike paths and cross-country ski trails nearby. Additionally, some of the abandoned barns in the area may be transformed into algae farms, which can in turn double as health spas and water filtering gardens.