Algae Biofuel Moves to the Big City: Project Aims to Grow Algae On a High-Rise

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The demise of retail giant Filene’s Basement may have a positive effect on proponents of vertical urban farming and algae biofuels alike. Since 2007, the developers of a Filene’s site in downtown Boston have been unable to find funding to move the project forward. But now Höweler + Yoon Architecture and their partner Squared have put forth a proposal to erect a temporary vertical, modular, algae bioreactor high-rise in its place.

Called the Eco-Pod (pdf), the project leaders intend it to immediately stimulate “the economy and the ecology” of downtown Boston simultaneously. Eco-pod is a temporary modular structure made of individual pods that can be disassembled if and when the Filene’s project actually gets funded. According to the developers of Eco-Pod, each pod will produce biofuel and act as an incubator for scientists and companies to do research on growing algae and producing biofuel. The structure will also have open common areas to form a network of public parks and gardens.

Taking advantage of the fact that algae can be grown vertically on non-arable land, the Eco-Pod expands on the idea of urban vertical farming and takes it one step further with a vision to make fuel locally in an urban setting. By placing the structure in the middle of a city, the developers hope to stimulate public interest in algae biofuels as well as create an interaction between the public and researchers.

The Eco-Pod’s modules can be reconfigured as necessary to meet the changing demands of the structure by means of a “robotic armature powered by the algae biofuel.” If the Filene’s project ever takes off, the modules can be taken down by the robotic arm and redistributed to other parts of the city to infill other empty sites.

And now for a little dose of reality: As with most projects of this type, this one seems designed by people who have little practical experience with the needs of scientists and the viability and profitability of making algae biofuels with current technology. While I appreciate the creativity of the venture, I think it is a bit too pie-in-the-sky to ever see the light of day. Sure it could be done, but it would likely be a money-losing venture—far from the economic stimulus that the developers envision.

Source: Biofuels Digest

Image Credits: Squared Design Lab

Nick Chambers

Not your traditional car guy.