Combining algae and microfluidics for fresh air indoors
May 9, 2016
atasha Lomas reports for TechCrunch that Artveoli, a biotech startup, is building an air purifying device that aims to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen in indoor environments, such as offices and homes, by harnessing the photosynthetic properties of algae. “It’s like having trees inside buildings,” is Artveoli’s elevator pitch. The startup is officially launching on stage this week at TechCrunch Disrupt New York.
Artveoli’s aim is to start manufacturing their first air purifying product this year, says co-founder Alina Adams, with a view to shipping the device sometime in 2017. Ms. Adams has a background in microfluidics, the core technology that her company is applying to increase the efficiency of the algae to enable a single unit to have an impact on the room where it is placed.
Microfluidics refers to a field of research that looks at how fluids behave differently at the micro-scale, and how those differences can be exploited for particular uses. “It’s a new type of technology that makes biochemical processes much easier, faster; it’s easier to control and work with the different, complex biological systems,” explains Ms. Adams.
Discussing how the idea for the business was born, she says, “I was thinking, we have plants that make fresh air, so how can we put lots and lots of plants inside buildings? This was the ah-ha moment, when she realized that nobody is actually using microfluidics devices to grow photosynthetic cells to make fresh air.”
“We’re actually talking to DARPA – they are interested in potential future applications for this technology – because we are able to produce oxygen and remove carbon dioxide in closed spaces, which is essential if you’re limited on the air supply from outside.”
Artveoli’s device is a closed system with the algae contained inside transparent, microfluidic plastic chips and the necessary nutrients (plus light, via an LED backlit panel) fed to them via a built-in control system. This allows for control of cell density (and therefore unit efficiency), including by controlling the rate of introduction of new algae based on the growth rates of the existing population.
The units themselves will be custom built and installed for commercial customers, and will vary in size and price, although Ms. Adams says pricing will be in the ballpark of existing air purifier devices.
Selling to the commercial market is the startup’s first push, with the clearest use case being offices where lots of people gather for long periods of time, she says.
But the team also intends to build a product for the consumer market down the line, although decisions about form factor and how to design these units are yet to be made. The hope is to integrate the technology with Nest smart home devices so they could be used to control the units.
Artveoli is partnering with designers to be able to offer buyers a printed cover for the units, in addition to potentially offering other cover options, such as a touchscreen or a whiteboard, for use in an office environment.