This algae-powered exterior cladding turns polluted air into fresh oxygen

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For years now, designers and architects have been reimagining the ways biology might seamlessly merge with design and architecture in order to create more sustainable cities and products, resulting in new-fangled ideas like biomimicry, 'genetic' architecture that can respond to stimuli, and even mushroom-based 'mycotecture'.

Perhaps not surprisingly, algae might be part of the solution too, as a UK-based consortium is demonstrating with an intriguing installation of algal curtains that can help buildings clean polluted urban air. Created by Photo.Synth.Etica -- a collaborative group made up of ecoLogicStudio, UCL's Urban Morphgenesis Lab and University of Innsbruck's Synthetic Landscapes Lab -- the AlgaeClad system captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in real-time.

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According to architects Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of ecoLogicStudio, the large-scale algal curtains are architectural add-ons, capable of storing the same amount of CO2 as twenty large trees (about one kilogram of CO2 per day):

AlgaeClad is the world first living ETFE cladding. It requires far less structural support and its carbon footprint could be 80 times lower than an equivalent system in glass. This makes it particularly suitable for retrofitting projects. Our partnership with UCL allows us to develop a unique combination of engineered algae strands and digitally manufactured ETFE cushions, which gives the system exceptional resilience, low maintenance and suitability for dense urban environments. [..]

Designed to be integrated into both existing and new buildings, it is composed of 16.2 x 7 metre (53 x 23 feet) modules, each one functioning as a photobioreactor — a digitally designed and custom made bioplastic container — using daylight to feed the living micro-algal cultures and releasing luminescent shades at night.

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In collaboration with Climate-KIC, this prototypical "bio-smart" cladding system was put in place over a building in Dublin, Ireland earlier this year for the Climate Innovation Summit. The system works by having unfiltered air coming at the bottom. This polluted air then makes its way through the curtain, coming in contact with microbes in the green algae, which capture and store the CO2 molecules. Throughout the process, fresh oxygen is created through photosynthesis and released at the top of the curtain. Eventually, the curtain's algal biomass can also then be harvested as a material to create other products.

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The group sees the curtain as one way to potentially decarbonize cities and bring photosynthesis to our built environment, as well one method of turning pollution into raw material, and an opportunity to "retrofit buildings into bio-power stations." The team is currently working to find a way to produce the curtains on a larger scale. To find out more, visit ecoLogicStudio and Photo.Synth.Etica.

This algae-powered exterior cladding turns polluted air into fresh oxygen
This modular curtain could help existing buildings photosynthesize oxygen and get rid of pollution in cities.

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