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Posts Tagged ‘algae’

Photo: Wikipedia
The facade of the BIQ (Bio Intelligent Quotient) house in Hamburg has tanks filled with microalgae that produce biomass used to generate electricity.

It’s reassuring that there are always thinkers who are really “out there,” wildly inventing better ways to do things. For example, in architecture. Did you know there was such a thing as experimental architecture? Me neither.

Rachel Armstrong is a professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. You can read about her views on breathable buildings at the website Aeon.

“Traditional buildings are designed to provide protection against a savage world, with us safe on one side and our waste on the other. Architects have long relied on ‘hard’ materials such as masonry, aluminium and glass, specifically chosen to prevent the outside environment from getting in. Impermeability was, and is, a driving goal.

“It is time to rethink that approach. Our current built environment squanders too much fresh water and other vital resources, and tips too many poisonous substances into our surroundings. To develop a more sustainable relationship with the natural world, we need to allow chemical exchanges that take place within our living spaces, and between the inside and the outside. We need to embrace permeability. …

“In many offices, it is no longer possible to open windows manually to let in a breeze. Automated air-conditioning systems (often answering only to sensors and software) blast summer heat out into scorching walkways, amplifying the urban heat-island effect and contributing to heat-related health risks. Such buildings ignore the metabolism that is the dynamic scaffolding of living systems.

“During the 1970s, the ecologists John and Nancy Jack Todd and William McLarney founded the New Alchemy Institute – now the Green Center on Cape Cod in Massachusetts – to reconceive building spaces as part of a self-sustaining human ecosystem. Such spaces would not be hermetically sealed, but rather open to the flow of natural elements. …

“Incorporating permeability into architecture begins with a building’s composition. In the past 20 years, engineers have developed organic construction materials that have various degrees of permeability. Mycotecture – architectural building blocks that are formed from the fibrous material of fungal roots – are as strong as concrete and as insulating as fibreglass. BioMASON bricks are built by microorganisms; they do not need firing and are as strong as traditional masonry. Bioplastics are produced by bacteria using biogas from landfills and wastewater treatment plants. Since they are not derived from petroleum, bioplastics have lower carbon footprints. Like wood, they are ‘farmed’ into existence. …

“Semi-permeable ceramics in particular can be treated to provide binding surfaces for biofilms, large coordinated colonies of bacteria or other microorganisms. Biofilms can be grown to have semiconductor properties, akin to solar cells or computer circuits. When treated with manganese, biofilms can become filters that regulate the flow of air and water into a building. …

“The BIQ House in Hamburg has a façade of thin-walled tanks filled with microalgae. The algae harvest sunlight and carbon dioxide, and produce biomass that can be used to generate electricity. The translucent, living tanks also regulate the building temperature by absorbing more sunshine as the biomass increases. In this case, the glass of the tanks is impermeable to water but lets in sunlight – a different kind of permeability, which is critical for the organic exchanges within the façade.

“The Living Architecture (LIAR) project, funded by the European Union among others, is a fruitful effort to create showcases of semi-permeable design. For instance, the project aims to transform bathrooms, kitchens and commercial spaces into environmentally sensitive, productive sites. …

“The LIAR project is still in a prototype phase. Quantitative inputs and outputs have not yet been formally established. But project leaders expect to see integrated bioreactor wall systems in real homes within the next 10 years.” More at Aeon, here.

All I can think of right now, having recently experienced a week of below zero Fahrenheit degrees, is, “Will the solar properties be enough? Can buildings turn off the permeability?”

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The radio show Living on Earth (LOE) reported recently on work to restore seaweeds that are a key part of the ecosystem.

From the LOE website: “Ripped from the seafloor by strong swells, massive amounts of kelp recently washed ashore in southern California. But the uprooted algae may actually be a sign of successful kelp restoration efforts. Marine biologist Nancy Caruso discusses the fragile ecosystem and how she and a community are helping to rebuild the majestic kelp forests.”

Radio host Steve Curwood interviewed Caruso. She recounts how she began 12 years ago with a group of students and volunteers “to restore the kelp forests off of Orange County’s coast.”

After a storm, she says, big holes get ripped in the forest of kelp, often 10 feet high. Then “new life can grow from the bottom up, and so if we see this happen, which we’re seeing right now, the kelp returns immediately after this event, then we know that our restoration efforts are successful, and after 30 years of our local ecosystem not having healthy kelp forests, we can rest assured that it’s now restored.”

To Curwood’s question about how restoration is done, Caruso answers, “It was actually quite an effort because I had the help of 5,000 students from ages 11 to 18 as well as 250 skilled volunteer divers, and we planted this kelp in 15 different areas in Orange County. There’s a spot down in Dana Point. It’s the only kelp forest that was left in Orange County so we would collect the reproductive blades from those kelp plants, and I would take them into the classrooms for the students to clean them and we would actually stress them out overnight. We would leave them out of water in the refrigerator, kind covered with paper towels, and then the next morning we would put them back in the ice-cold seawater and the kelp blade would release millions of spores” that would then be raised in nurseries and returned to the ocean.

“All those animals that get washed up on the beach inside the wrangled tangled kelp become a food source for shorebirds that live along our coast.”

More from Living on Earth here. For more on the importance of seaweed, see also Derrick Z. Jackson’s article in the Boston Sunday Globe: “Eelgrass Could Save the Planet.”

Photo: NOAA’s National Ocean Service
Kelp forests can be seen along much of the west coast of North America.

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Back in June, Jane Devlin tweeted a link to a story on a curious “urban algae canopy” designed for EXPO 2015 in Milan.

Ross Brooks wrote at Inhabitat, “The Urban Algae Canopy by ecoLogic Studio is a piece of bio-digital architecture that combines micro-algal cultures and real time digital cultivation protocols. To be displayed at Expo Milano 2015, the structure is able to control the flow of energy, water and carbon dioxide based on weather patterns, visitors’ movements, and other environmental variables. It’s the first of its kind in the world, and … will be able to produce the oxygen equivalent of four hectares of woodland, along with nearly 330 pounds of biomass per day.” More at Inhabitat.

DOMUSweb adds that Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of ecoLogicStudio “proposed a new vision of future bio-digital architecture powered by microalgae organisms as part of the Future Food District project, curated by Carlo Ratti Associati at the central crossroads of the EXPO site. …

“The flows of energy, water and CO2 are … regulated to respond and adjust  to weather patterns and visitors’ movements.  As the sun shines more intensively, algae would photosynthesise and grow, thus reducing the transparency of the canopy and increasing its shading potential.” More from DOMUS.

Photo: ecoLogicStudio
Urban Algae Canopy

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