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Scientific Sculptures Reveal the Hidden Beauty of Algae

Why pond scum has the power to meet our energy needs — and our aesthetic ones.

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Marin Sawa could take the scum in your pond and turn it into art — and maybe even fuel.

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Sawa is a British architect and materiologist, and she creates elaborate sculptures out of farmed algae, tubes, and glass vessels. Altogether, it looks like the stuff of a mad scientist’s lab. But these are not just aesthetic objects. With further research, they have the potential to harness green energy.

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Sawa’s project, called Algaerium, grows algae in her own makeshift lab. She describes the process:

“The design specially focuses on two different types of algae’s photosynthetic metabolism. Green algae convert light energy and CO2 into O2 and biochemical energy (biofuel) and white algae (bioluminescent) produce its bioluminescence from photosynthesis. The photosynthesis of green algae generates a responsive colour system. The water is CO2 sensitive and changes to purple from yellow as the algae photosynthesize.”

Algae already figures prominently in the commercial and industrial sectors. It’s used in food, fertilizer, dye, bioplastics, and pharmaceuticals. The U.S. government recently invested $25 million in algae fuel research. And studies have shown that it can help generate electricity. But Sawa wants to exploit it in a quieter way: at home. “Algaerium expands the industrial scale of algaculture to a new scale: bringing new green presence into our urban living,” she says.

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There’s just one problem, as Sawa readily admits: The technology will take a while to implement. But when it is ready, energy generation will never have looked so beautiful.

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D

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