A biochemical startup company joined forces with Imperial College London (ICL) to launch its “biosolar leaf technology” last month. Comprised of solar panel-like structures embedded with microscopic flora such as phytoplankton and microalgae, the technology is capable of absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, generating clean electricity and producing sustainable food additives all at the same time.
The company behind the technology is called Arborea and was founded last year by inventor, engineer and entrepreneur Julian Melchiorri. Working in tandem with scientists from ICL, Cambridge University and London Business School, Arborea are confident their biosolar leaf structures can do the work of 100 trees in the same space as one, all the while nurturing the environment and targeting the problem of food security.
Behind the science
Arborea’s innovative new products are just one example of a raft of that are making a huge difference to our impact on the planet. By harnessing the power of the natural process of photosynthesis, the panels are able to absorb sunlight and convert it into energy, as well as nurturing microplants which sustainably create food ingredients and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, all in one fell swoop.
“When I founded Arborea my goal was to tackle climate change while addressing the critical issues related to the food system,” . “This pilot plant will produce sustainable healthy food additives while purifying the air, producing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the surrounding environment.” All food cultivated by Arborea is GM-free, hormone-free and vegan-compliant, as well as requiring no artificial stimulants or herbicides.
The solar panels of the future
Given that the panels utilise natural sunlight, they are infinitely scalable, making them a perfect choice to generate electricity in a crowded urban cityscape. They are currently being trialled at ICL’s West London White City campus and if all goes to plan, they could provide a valuable demonstration of how sustainable solutions can have multi-faceted real-world applications. The first of their kind, the panels do somewhat recall the in cities across Europe, albeit with the added advantages of energy generation and food production.
The project builds upon Melchiorri’s previous success with ‘Exhale’, which is the world’s first ever living chandelier. Using the same technology as the biosolar leaf panels, the chandelier contains microplants which convert carbon into oxygen, thus removing CO2 from the air. It currently is on at London’s V&A museum. However, the biosolar leaf project takes things one step further as the panels can not only generate electricity, but produce edible ingredients as well. As such, Londoners can hope to see the panels adorning walls, rooftops and myriad other surfaces around the city in the not-too-distant future.