Typically, discovering algae in a building’s plumbing or air ducts would be a real problem.
But at Pittsburgh International Airport, the green stuff might be the key to correcting some health and environmental issues in public facilities.
AlgenAir Inc., a company that uses algae to improve indoor air quality, is partnering with xBridge, PIT’s innovation hub, to evaluate the first commercial-size model of its aerium Living Technology system, in the airport’s Baggage Claim.
“The aerium Living Technology will enable building owners to improve indoor air quality without sacrificing energy efficiency,” said co-founder and CTO Dan Fucich.
XBridge serves as a proving ground site for startups and established companies of all sizes to pilot new technologies in a real-world operating environment. The airport is continuously seeking out new partners with interesting ideas that may improve sustainability, customer experience and more, said xBridge Director Cole Wolfson.
“The xBridge is representative of Pittsburgh’s thriving tech economy,” Wolfson said. “We’re excited to partner with AlgenAir on the proof-of-concept for aerium Living Technology as we work to increase clean energy and decarbonization options.”
The 10 vertical tubes in the aerium look similar to green lava lamps. At about 8 feet tall, they hold more than 100 gallons of the algae spirulina, an amount that holds the photosynthetic capacity of more than 5,000 plants.
Air from inside the airport is pumped through the tubes, where the algae filter carbon dioxide and impurities out while producing oxygen that bubbles to the surface and is released back into the indoor atmosphere.
Fresh spirulina is green but will eventually turn blue as it absorbs more and more carbon dioxide. Once it has maximized its capacity, fresh algae will be added and the spent biomass will be used as fertilizer around the airport campus.
After a three-month pilot period, PIT and xBridge staff will evaluate the results and determine if the aerium should be used permanently at the airport.
In recent years, comparative risk studies performed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.
AlgenAir is not the first company to work with xBridge on clean air solutions. PIT partnered with Fortune 100 company Honeywell to develop a live dashboard measuring air quality that will help airport staff identify and correct issues in real-time.
In a partnership with Allegheny Health Network, the airport used that technology to evaluate and install an ionization system in its HVAC infrastructure designed to rid the air of viruses and other potentially threatening impurities.