Living in Algae: BioReactors

In my last blog, I talked about how vertical farming may be the future to food production for a rapidly growing population. You may be skeptical that a skyscraper filled with plants could feed an urban population of millions and potentially billions in the future. If you would like some convincing, please check out my previous blog: https://greengroundsatuva.wordpress.com/2015/03/21/vertical-farms/

How about instead of talking about buildings filled with plants, we talk about buildings made of plants. A new apartment complex opened up in Hamburg, Germany in the Spring of 2013. What gave this building so much attention was not because of its nice lobby or its window-side views, but its microscopic neighbors. The five-story Bio Intelligent Building is a vertical farm for algae that covers the interior of the glass walls on the sides of the building. But why algae? Well, designers of the building stated that the algae will create biofuel, heat, shade, and even act as a sound barrier to keep the building quiet. On the southern side of the building, 129 bioreactors are built to provide an enclosed environment for the algae to flourish as well as absorb sunlight and act as solar panels. After the algae has grown to a maximum capacity, it is harvested and transformed into methane gas, which acts as a biofuel that can produce electricity and prevent carbon-footprinting. Because this is the first experimentation with algae bioreactors, many people are keeping an eye on how it will do. Learn more about this building and how its doing today:

http://www.iba-hamburg.de/en/themes-projects/the-building-exhibition-within-the-building-exhibition/smart-material-houses/biq/projekt/biq.html

http://magazine.good.is/articles/algae-powered-building

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/business/energy-environment/german-building-uses-algae-for-heating-and-cooling.html?_r=0

 

 

 

Let’s look at bioreactors in more detail. Bioreactors are engineered systems that supports the growth of an active biological environment. There are many different types of bioreactors, but we will only look at two here.

Basic Bioreactor

Photobioreactor:

The bioreactors in the BIQ building are composed of photobioreactors. These types of bioreactors simply have translucent walls that allow sunlight to help organisms grow. However, we must distinguish this definition from ponds or fish tanks. Although these containers are translucent, they are open containers, which would not fit the case of photobioreactors. Because photobioreactors use sunlight as the main source of energy for the organisms inside and therefore do not need to pump nutrients such as lipids into the enclosed environment, there is a much lower chance of contamination.

Up-and-Down Agitation Bioreactor:

These bioreactors are mainly used to mix sensitive organisms such as individual cells. Simply, a motor mixes the environment contained in the bioreactor by moving it up and down. This prevents stress on cells and the formation of vortexes. In addition, this bioreactor is relatively cheap compared to the others.

 

There are many benefits of bioreactors, most of which are being experimented with today. Besides providing biofuels as exemplified by BIQ, bioreactors have many “cleaning” benefits for our environment. For example, bioreactors can treat sewage by separating sewage solids and creating fertilizer as well as preventing over saturation of the ground. In addition, bioreactors can protect surface waters by limiting the nutrients that will be allowed to flow into them, which would ultimately benefit agriculture. In addition, NASA is currently working on ways to develop sensitive tissue in bioreactors, which would not be possible in industrial reactors. Ultimately, bioreactors are still being experimented on. However, there might be a growing chance that you will lease an apartment that is covered in algae and next to a vertical farm skyscraper in the future!

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