Algae Innovations: 13 Alternative Bio-Energy Concepts

‘Pond scum’ used to be an insult. Now, it should be an adjective describing something natural, efficient and versatile. Just look at all of the amazingly creative ways in which algae is being used – as a source of light, power, color and even music. These 13 futuristic concepts put algae to work in specially designed solar panels, cars, houses, textiles and interactive cyber gardens.

Algae-Powered Latro Lamp

(images via: mike thompson)

This incredible self-powered lamp uses sunlight, CO2 and water to give off a soft glow! The Latro Lamp by Mike Thompson features an algae chamber which uses carbon dioxide from your breath to generate energy. You simply put the lamp in the sunlight, breathe into it and watch it light up. How is this possible? Researchers discovered that a tiny electrical current can be extracted from the photosynthesis process in algae. The lamp has a battery that stores the energy generated by the algae throughout the day.

World’s First Algae-Powered Car

(images via: inhabitat)

Imagine a world in which all of our cars ran on algae instead of fossil fuels. That may not be too far away – there’s already an algae fuel-powered vehicle called the Algaeus. A plug-in hybrid, the Algaeus is actually a Prius with a nickel metal hydride battery running on crude algae fuel made by Sapphire Energy. Amazingly, it can go from coast to coast on just 25 gallons of fuel.

Algaerium Living Textiles

(images via: marin sawa)

Living textiles? That’s right, these ‘threads’ by designer Marin Sawa are made up of living, breathing algae specimens in clear tubes; specific combinations of algae and sunlight levels produce a variety of colors, so that the fabric actually responds to its surrounding environment.

Algae-Covered Building

(images via: imeche.org)

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers envisions a future in which algae-equipped buildings not only produce energy, but do so but sucking the greenhouse gas CO2 out of the surrounding air. They released a report suggesting that sealed containers of algae photobioreactors could be added to the sides of existing buildings to produce biofuels. Coming up with solutions that work with existing architecture and infrastructure would certainly be less wasteful and more realistic than ultra-futuristic concepts for new construction.

Algae Airships as Self-Contained Cities

(image via: vincent callebaut)

Architect Vincent Callebaut is known for fantastical futuristic concepts that will almost certainly never become reality, but are awfully pretty to look at. This example is called ‘Hydrogenase’, a series of algae-producing airborne cities that are completely self-contained. Their ‘home bases’ are floating farms, and the airships themselves produce agile for power.

Algae Solar Panels

(image via: cam ac uk)

When chemical engineers and plant scientists work together, they can produce sustainable products with a lot of real-life potential – as evidenced by this concept by the University of Cambridge. They’re biophotovoltaics – solar panels containing living algae.

The Algae Room

(image via: dezeen)

A winner of the 2009 Dezeen x Design Association container competition, ‘The Algae Room’ by Jonathan Hagos of studioJonandNina encourages incorporating eco-friendly features into every facet of our lives, including our living environments. Algae production is actually built into the home’s walls. “The Algae Room is our speculative reconfiguration of the home, one enabling the domestic growth of fuel; dissipating state fuel production to give individuals more control over the impact they make on the Earth.”

Music-Making Algae

(image via: inhabitat)

It may not be the most practical application of algae, but it’s certainly fun and interesting. French students Marianne Cauvard and Raphael Pluvinage used agar-agar (red algae) to make music. Entitled ‘Noisy Jelly’, the project molding the gel created by agar-agar into geometric shapes, which are placed on a sensor board that creates music when it’s touched.

Interactive Cyber Garden

(image via: ecologicstudio)

This high-tech garden has no plants – just hundreds of little plastic pouches full of various species of algae. These photobioreactors hang from the ceiling. But the display, called HORTUS (Hydro Organisms Responsive to Urban Stimuli) is more than just a close look at pond scum. It’s an interactive exhibit. Visitors exhale into the bags of algae through hanging tubes, feeding them the carbon dioxide they need to grow. Each bag has its own QR code which, when scanned with a smartphone, provides info about the algae’s growth.

Algae as Large-Scale Transportation Fuel

(image via: heliae)

There’s a car that runs on algae – but what about larger-scale transportation? A company called Heliae is already on it. They’re growing algae on a commercial scale. According to the company, costs are still too high for it to be feasible, but in 5 to 10 years it might just work. One of the biggest obstacles is making sure that the process of creating the algae fuel doesn’t take more energy to grow than the amount of carbon dioxide that the algae would absorb.

Carbon-Absorbing, Algae-Producing Floating City

(image via: x-tu)

X SEA TY is another futuristic concept for a floating, algae-producing city that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and releases fresh oxygen. The exterior of the city’s buildings would be covered in living walls of photosynthetic algae to produce fuel to power virtually everything inside including lights, appliances and vehicles.

Algae-Powered Eco City

(image via: ecologicstudio)

EcoLogicStudio has an idea for an algae-powered city, too. The Algae Farm is a town designed for a region off the coast of the Baltic Sea, and would involve the creation of algae farms, research labs and different kins of ‘activity spaces’. Algae would be grown for food and oil in large towers near lakes and other bodies of water, while more would be grown in underwater farms resembling giant baskets.

Algae-Powered Building Retrofit

(image via: process-zero)

Another smart retrofit transforms a 1960s federal government building in Los Angeles into a clean energy-generating, wastewater-cleaning building of the future. Addressing the problem of all of the aging architecture that we already have in our cities, the design turns an existing building into a power plant that produces all of its own energy using giant glass tubes full of algae incorporated into the exterior walls.

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