Are living green buildings just around the corner? A report recently released by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers suggests that sealed containers of algae photobioreactors could be integrated into the sides of buildings to produce biofuels and sequester carbon, adding a whole new meaning to the term ‘green building’. As the algae grows it sucks up CO2 from the surrounding air which can then be stored.

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One of the benefits to harnessing aglaculture for biofuels is that it can use waste-water and ocean water, and it is relatively harmless to the local environment should it spill or leak. Algae also has a much higher production rate per acre (or vertical foot in this case) than soy or corn. Additionally, some studies have shown that up to 99% of the CO2 introduced to the solution can be converted or sequestered.

Currently photobioreactors are much more expensive to use than conventional open-pond systems, but this is why the The Institute of Mechanical Engineers wants more research funding to be pushed toward PBRs. Whereas open pond-style algaculture covers large areas of habitat, PBRs could be incorporated into our existing city infrastructure and provide the filtering and fuel production where we need it most. Although biofuels would help shift us away from oil, they do nothing to address the underlying issues that are such tight siblings with car culture like global warming and social justice. While we try to figure out the future of the planet, maybe flying and driving on algae will buy us a little time.

The report also pointed to several other green building solutions including constructing forests of carbon storing synthetic trees, and using solar reflectors and green roofs as a way of preventing excessive solar heat gain. Hot roofs and asphalt can significantly alter an area’s local climate as well as drive up the need for air conditioning (and the peaker plants that A/C requires).

So the engineers have stepped their game up and joined the fray, what do you think of their options?

+The Institute of Mechanical Engineers