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Innovations

Harvesting microalgae to de-carbonize future cities

October 23, 2018 — by Marco Poletto
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

When ecoLogicStudio’s Printworks building emits CO2, this is captured by each of their facade’s photobioreactors and feeds the living algae cultures within them. And when the sun shines, its energy is captured by the algal cells within the photobioreactors that are designed to form an urban curtain in front of the existing building.

In the project Photo.Synth.Etica, which my company ecoLogicStudio has developed for the EIT Climate-KIC annual Climate Innovation Summit, we have introduced a new spatial metric to measure human-induced climate change. Ecologic value, measured here in terms of CO2 emissions, is reframed spatially to include what economists call “externalities” towards other social and ecological systems.

This implies a network of relationships that are activated in space and time, fed by continuous exchanges between individual agents and their neighbors. So, for example, when the Printworks building emits CO2, this is captured by each of our facade’s photobioreactors and feeds the living algae cultures within them. When the sun shines, its energy is captured by the algal cells within the photobioreactors that are designed to form an urban curtain in front of the existing building.

Photosynthesis is activated and oxygen produced and released at the top of each facade unit. The energy and the carbon molecules are stored in algae cells as biomass and can be released later as useful resources. In fact, the biomass can be used to produce more of the same bio-plastic that constitutes the main building material of the photobioreactors themselves. And the chain of reactions can spread in multiple directions and involve a variety of stakeholders. We can use this metric to measure the emissions of entire countries and their potential impact.

In the near future, each link in the chain will be managed by a collection of algorithmic protocols. Significantly, this implies the direct co-action in time and space of disparate systems including planning authority and active citizens but also the intelligence of other digital — as well as natural — organisms (sun, algae, carbon trading algorithms and so on). The result is an “in-human” assemblage that revolutionizes the notion of urban sustainability as we know it.

This notion represents a functional evolution of architecture in the age of ubiquitous computing. It shifts the current subject-object relationship as it proposes to consider humans, intelligent bio-components and surrounding territorial systems simultaneously engaged as agents of design. It therefore sets the conceptual ground to re-evaluate the role of technological innovation in supporting the emergence of alternative models of sustainable inhabitation of the urban sphere leading to new forms of urban intelligence.

Photo.Synth.Etica by Ecologic Studio will be shown at the Climate Innovation Summit, Dublin, 6-8 November 2018.

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