Bioreactors on the move to replace oil

We have discussed the topic algae a lot in the past few years, but that is because you can so do much with them. Often, the algae are used to make something, such as bio-foam, packaging material, water bottles, but also ink or vases. However, what of instead of turning the algae into something, we let the algae work for us? Algae can be used in bioreactors to produce heat, energy and biomass, which can be turned into fuel or for instance roofing material.

Urban Algae Folly
This folly, designed by ecoLogicStudio, integrates micro-algal cultures and real time digital cultivation protocols. It demonstrates how a constructed ecosystem can provide benefits for a city by filtering air, providing shading and generating energy. A prototype module of this design was set up in Milan, Italy.

The properties of microalgae organisms (Chlorella vulgaris) are enhanced by their cultivation within a custom designed, soft ETFE cladding system. At the core of it is a special CNC welding technology. This makes it possible to design and control the morphology of the cushions under stress as well as the fluid dynamic behaviour of the nutritious medium as it travels through it.

The flows of solar energy, water and oxygen respond and adjust to weather patterns and visitors’ movements in real-time. As the sun shines, algae photosynthesises and grows, reducing the transparency of the folly and changing the appearance. More sunshine means the algae grow faster, which in turn makes the structure less transparent and provides natural sunshade.

The Urban Algae Folly produces 35 g (1.3 oz) of algae every day. It also absorbs 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) of CO2 per day, and produces 750 g (26.5 oz) of oxygen per day, while an average tree provides 125 g (4.4 oz) of oxygen per day.

The companies Arup and Colt joined up in 2013 to build a house featuring bioreactors in the façade, called SolarLeaf. The BIQ House in Hamburg, Germany houses over 129 bioreactors measuring 2.5 m x 0.7 m (8.2 ft x 2.3 ft) have been installed on the south-west and south-east faces of the four-storey residential building to form a secondary façade.

Bioreactors around the exterior of the structure generate renewable energy from algal biomass and solar thermal heat. A series of transparent glass façade panels house the microscopic algae, forming a closed-loop system independent of soil or weather conditions. Energy generated can be used to modulate temperature or supply hot water. In this case, the system services 1/3 of the building’s heating needs, which consists of 15 residential units. In addition, it also works, like the Urban Algae Folly, as a natural sunshade.

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