Vertical Algae Farming for a Cleaner Future

By Seth Rollings | Energy, Urban Design

Algae can be used for many things and is of the most efficient of all plant life at absorbing carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere. Algae is abundant and can be grown almost anywhere on the planet.  A food source, algae is packed with vitamins that you could find difficult to otherwise obtain in certain areas. Algae can also be converted into a fertilizer for agricultural industries. Algin can be extracted from the plant to form Alginic acid, which is used in many medicines. Bioluminescence or light from life forms is a rare occurrence above sea level, but under the depths of the ocean it is commonplace for organisms to glow. Some algae can possess the properties of bioluminescence. Hans Gaffron discovered that algae can sometimes switch from production of oxygen to hydrogen. This is especially useful considering our hydrogen fuel cell technologies. Some of algae’s mass is up to half lipid or oil. We can convert that oil into petroleum product.


Eco-Pod Project for harvesting algae as a biofuel source by Howeler + Yoon Architecture.

Why grow algae when we can just drill and frack oil now? If one only thinks of now then they will surely be in a future dilemma. Crude oil is formed from the fossilization of plants and animals under extreme pressures. This decaying material takes over ten thousand years to form crude oil. No one has that long to wait for more crude oil so by being creative we can make our own. There are many ways to convert algae into biodiesel but algae is a delicate crop that must be grown and harvest in a controlled environment.

Why is it so difficult to grow? The sun’s light can only penetrate the surface of the water which algae can then grow on. The problem with growing on a traditional pond or lake is that the surface area that the algae grows on is very small and not cost effective. Vertical farming seems to be the future for algal production, especially in the oil industry. It’s a well-known fact that New York City has been building vertically instead of outwardly for a long time. This is because population density can be increased more efficiently. The same applies with algal life. By hanging transparent tubing vertically, the algae can grow in a higher density while also being recycled through a pump. The system would be a closed loop in which the water is pumped through continuously while contaminants, nutrients, and rate of growth can be monitored easily.

futuristic-vertical-algae-farm-renderingIwamotoScott Architecture‘s City of the Future. These vertical algae farms will power San Francisco 2108 in their futuristic design.

Algae and bioengineering go hand in hand when in production for any algal by-product. The best part about algae is that it can be engineered selectively to produce certain outcomes. If you want jet fuel then a certain characteristic of a carbon chain can be altered for the output. This is happening right now. The oil can be extracted many ways from the algae including, oil press, hexane solvents, and super-critical fluid methods. While the cost effectiveness can vary, growing algae vertically makes each method more viable.

Vertical farming does not just apply to algal farms, but to most of crops. It allows more to be grown in a small contained area offering environmental benefits from vertical farming as well. We might one day move past the need for oil to run our machines but as of right now we will need oil to run the world. The biggest contribution of energy in the United States today is oil. If we can’t change our dependence, we should be creating jobs that will ensure the security our future.

About The Author

Seth Rollings
My name is Seth, and I am a New Mexico Transplant from Georgia. I have a passion for all things science and technology. I love playing the guitar and record my songs as well. I'm currently attending Eastern New Mexico University at Roswell for Renewable Energy Technologies. Questions are always encouraged.