© Nathan William Smith
Algal Filter Machine

GSAPP, 2011, Landscape Futures, c. David Benjamin

*submitted in the 2011 International Algae Competition

Although fossil fuels have performed greatly as natural energy sources, their current scarcity and toxic energy conversion outputs are causing a break in our environmental system. While various energy producing systems have been proposed like those that use corn or sugar as a fuel source, these fail in their continual need for fossil-fuel input and their non-recursive properties. Using algae as a bio-fuel hopes to solve both of these issues in the creation of a recursive energy system with little to no negative outputs, as well as allow a smooth conversion from fossil-fuel dependence to algae independence.

My research in the creation of a landscape which harvests algal bio-fuel focuses primarily on the system as proposed by Synthetic Genomics which hopes to bio-engineer algal cells to naturally secrete the components used to create bio-fuel in a faster rate and in higher quantity than current capabilities. [see Fig. 1.1] While there is typically a distinction between Landscape Design (environment, setting, canvas) and Architectural Design (inhabitable space, physical object, manufactured form), in which architecture in set into landscape, it is necessary to consider both as equal parts of a complete cycle. The importance of considering not just the created object, but the object as part of a complete system allows successful insertion into various existing cycles (carbon cycles, energy cycles, etc.). The proposed artifacts shown within take account of this in the designs of full systems. Bio-fuel created from algae has the greatest hope in a source of fuel which can completely replace fossil fuels. Currently, the necessary inputs for the production of algal bio-fuel are what currently make the system expensive. One major input needed for the growth of algae in such a system is carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 is in over-abundance in our current society. The difficulty is how to harness and store this material.

The Algal Filter Machine first targets the current areas of greatest CO2 emission and employs energy-producing systems at varying scales in order to foster this input for the growth of algal bio-fuel.

This is employed by many different means including that of the automobile scale (1:4 landscape), the building scale (1:100 landscape), and the city scale (1:1,000,000 landscape). Through the creation of algal bio-fuel, chemicals like Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen are removed from output cycles and are instead used for the initial growth of algae, typically leaving water vapor as the only output. Ironically, the greatest producers of carbon dioxide then become the greatest producers of clean air and energy.

One of the greatest benefactors of the algal bio-fuel system is its recursive nature.2 The current fuel cycle transfers a limited natural material (fossil fuel) into energy, outputting toxic chemicals. This is the end of the system as it is one-way. The algal bio-fuel cycle uses these same existing toxic chemicals from the petroleum fuel cycle as an input in the creation of a fatty bio-fuel, outputting the same toxic materials yet which are captured and used as an input in the same system, ergo recursion. What this means is that the system works with its own internal cycle and that most of the same algal cells used for energy production can be re-used as long as the environmental characteristics are tuned accordingly.

This recursive algal bio-fuel creation cycle has been implemented in the following proposals: