Algae Farms to Combat Highway Pollution

Rooftop gardens, green roofs, and other urban green spaces have been extremely beneficial for reducing stormwater runoff, for carbon sequestration, for creating a source of local food, and more. Recently, a new type of elevated garden created by Cloud Collective has hit the streets of Geneva, Switzerland: an algae farm. The farm is located on a highway overpass, which provides the ideal conditions for algae growth: sunlight, and CO2 from car emissions. The algae are grown in a bioreactor system on the wall of the overpass, made up of a closed, transparent tube system filled with algae, filters, pumps, and solar panels (thecloudcollective.org).

The algae is harvested as the tubes drain and filter the green gooey algae mix within. What are the Swiss going to do with all that algae? Algae can be used in food supplements, to make products like cosmetics and fertilizers, be used to make biofuel, or turned into green electricity as biomass (thecloudcollective.org). They act like all other plants, generating energy from photosynthesis using sunlight and CO2, and producing oxygen. In fact, algae are even more productive than plants. They are “more efficient at utilizing sunlight than terrestrial plants, consume harmful pollutants, and have minimal resource requirements and do not compete with food or agriculture for precious resources” (Sudhakar and Premalatha 2011). Additionally they have much higher growth rates. The current algae farm is only up temporarily as an experiment in a local festival, but similar experiments are being built elsewhere on buildings and bridges, and the farm designers believe the gardens could be extremely beneficial and practical for cities everywhere.

My thoughts after reading about this experiment and Switzerland left me with the following thoughts. With a big more trial and error, I think algae farms such as this could be an extremely efficient way to cut down our CO2 emissions. The apparatus doesn’t seem to take up too much space, or be too costly to operate (although I couldn’t find any numbers on pricing, so this is just my best guess based on the components of the contraption). Also, they look cool and remind me of my childhood dream of getting slimed on Slime Time Live.

I was interested to learn more about algae production to combat CO2, so I did some more research and learned that this was not the only experiment of it’s kind. For example, In 2009, Dow Chemical and Algenol Biofuels built a plant that used algae to convert CO2 into biodiesel or an ingredient in plastics (Wald, 2009). The goals for the products would be to reduce or replace the use of natural gas, reduce CO2, and provide oxygen. I am interested to see how algal cultivation will continue to create opportunities to reduce carbon dioxide, as well as create advances in medical science and other exciting and evolving fields.

Images of Geneva algae tubes

habillageTour_vecto 1301_GVC_04_BD 1301_GVC_09_BD 1301_GVC_12_BD

Sources

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3038134/an-algae-farm-designed-to-suck-up-highway-pollution

http://matteroftrust.org/9285/urban-algae-farm-gobbles-up-highway-air-pollution

http://thecloudcollective.org/#/projects/culture-urbaine/

Wald, L. Matthews. 2009. Algae Farm Aims to Turn Carbon Dioxide into Fuel. The New York Times.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/business/energy-environment/29biofuel.html

Sudhakar, K. Suresh, Premalatha, M. 2011. An Overview of CO2 Mitigation Using Algae Cultivation Technology. International Journal of Chemical Research.
http://www.academia.edu/1777643/An_overview_of_CO2_mitigation_using_Algal_Cultivation_Technology
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2 thoughts on “Algae Farms to Combat Highway Pollution

  1. Seren,

    You and I share the same dream of getting slimed on slimetime LIVE! I really like this idea….I wonder if this project could kill two birds with one stone. Reducing eutrophication in areas where excess nutrients are an issue, maybe intercepting these nutrients to feed the algae before it enters a waterbody. Especially since many cities are located near waterways, it could potentially reduce pollution from combustion while growing algae in contained tubes to protect aquatic systems.

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  2. This is so interesting! I’ve heard that algae can also be converted to biofuel, in which case it is a carbon net-zero fuel… but the idea that it can clean up the air near highways is important in and of itself. To my mind it’s also a very compact way to tackle the environmental issues of highway-culture. A hopeful post indeed!

    Like

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