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Are you nosy about microalgae?

Words:
Stephen Cousins

London's Building Centre is showcasing the huge potential of photosynthetic microalgae as a renewable resource for food, biofuel, circular bioplastics and medicines – including devices to clean nasal cavities

Prototypes of devices used to clean nasal cavities made from 3D printed algae filament.
Prototypes of devices used to clean nasal cavities made from 3D printed algae filament. Credit: NAARO

The Otrivin Air Lab is a live exhibition and workshop, with visitors invited to harvest the material and witness biomaterial manufacturing processes in action.

It is led by London-based architecture and design innovation firm EcoLogicStudio in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare and academic partners including Synthetic Landscape Lab at Innsbruck University, Urban Morphogenesis Lab at The Bartlett, UCL and the Department of Plastics and Rubber at STU Bratislava. 

The experimental project runs until 17 September and aims to test the feasibility of building a circular production workflow for microalgae, using EcoLogicStudio’s PhotoSynthetica technology to re-metabolise carbon dioxide and urban air pollution into fresh biomass.

EcoLogicStudio co-founder Claudia Pasquero told RIBAJ: ‘We want to enable urban dwellers to design new nature-based circular economies. At the lab we will harvest carbon dioxide, purify polluted urban air and 3D print plastic-free biodegradable products, essentially converting air pollution into products that help protect our breathing.'

The living laboratory will be housed inside a lightweight timber structure containing all the systems involved in different phases of the air-purification and biomass transformation.

A photosynthetic wall will feature 12 photobioreactors filled with a liquid culture containing the photosynthetic microalgae strains Spirulina, Chlorella, Porphyridium and Cyanidium.

  • The Otrivin Air Lab aims to test the feasibility of building a circular production workflow for microalgae.
    The Otrivin Air Lab aims to test the feasibility of building a circular production workflow for microalgae. Credit: NAARO
  • The Otrivin Air Lab aims to test the feasibility of building a circular production workflow for microalgae.
    The Otrivin Air Lab aims to test the feasibility of building a circular production workflow for microalgae. Credit: NAARO
  • Microalgae solution poured into a photobioreactor.
    Microalgae solution poured into a photobioreactor. Credit: NAARO
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According to EcoLogicStudio, the wall will be able to absorb 240g of CO2 and release 180g of oxygen to produce 84g of biomass per day. Bio-designers from the firm will craft a catalogue of material samples from the daily harvest, using them to produce bioplastics, bio-rubbers and algae filaments used in 3D printing.

Furthermore, a live 3D printing process will manufacture carbon-neutral bio-Neti Pots, devices used to clean nasal cavities with hydro minerals for therapeutic or hygiene purposes.

A key aim behind the exhibition is to raise awareness of the impact of air quality on respiratory health as part of the Otrivin Actions to Breathe Cleaner initiative. Each Neti-Pot manufactured will remove around 15g of carbon dioxide from the air, demonstrating how nature-based solutions can mitigate the impact of air pollution on breathing health. 

EcoLogicStudio claims the technologies explored create new opportunities for the evolution of products, shelf displays and packaging. The bio-digital fabrication process aims to eliminate waste, optimise material use and performance, and improve natural biodegradability, helping industries achieve carbon-neutral status.

PhotoSynthetica has been working to find applications for microalgae for several years. In 2019 it revealed an ‘urban curtain’ photobioreactor, a form of bioplastic cladding membrane for buildings, using pillows of algae to capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere and release oxygen.

 

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