Hydral is a groundbreaking infrastructure technology designed for an environmentally-conscious future. Using genetically modified algae, our system converts carbon dioxide into hydrogen through photosynthesis. Hydrogen is then utilized by fuel cells to power buildings and cars, while our process simultaneously cleanses local waste water. In the conclusion to Hydral's process, algal biomass is recycled as either fertilizer or a base resource to create biodiesel and petroleum gasoline off-site. In partnership with multifaceted architecture group Ore Design + Technology, Grow Energy is developing the Hydral system specifically for integration within new structures and building projects.
Hydrogen has long been viewed as a fuel source that could be the answer to a carbon-emission free future. Unfortunately Hydrogen en masse was not, until now, a naturally created element on our planet. As this new technology’s dawn approaches, it is important to design ways to capitalize on its immediate benefits. We see this not simply as a revolution in ecological fuel sources, but as a revolution in the structure of our fuel supply system. When fuel is no longer an ecologically harmful process to create, it no longer needs to be produced in remote locations that cause further pollution and energy expenditure in transportation. On-site production eliminates loss of energy in transmission, thereby reducing waste. We see this not simply as a development in ecological fuel sources, but as a revolution in the structure of our fuel supply system and a potential shift in environmental design.
Think of Hydral as growing a rainforest of algae. Natural rainforests and their carbon-reducing effects are vital to the global biosphere, but are being rapidly destroyed for resources and new development. Hydral systems are the equivalent of miniature rainforests, in that the system continuously consumes carbon dioxide. Where we differ, however, is converting a portion of that absorbed carbon dioxide into useable energy, in the form of hydrogen. As seen to the right, the Hydral process is a total two week cycle, where four days are spent in normal photosynthetic conditions (carbon dioxide reduced while oxygen emitted into the atmosphere), and the remaining ten days are subject to modified photosynthetic conditions, where hydrogen is produced by algae instead of oxygen.
The Hydral panel brings energy production to the consumer. Each panel is a modular 1 meter x 2 meter x .1 meter panels of hydrogen producing algae to be placed in an urban environment such as today’s photo-voltaic. These green panels do more than photo-voltaic, however, and are nowhere near as energy intensive to create, nor carry dangerous heavy metals.
Once the cultures are sealed in an anaerobic condition, starved of sulfur, the algae’s normal photosynthesis-respiration relationship is thrown into imbalance, causing a cellular net consumption of oxygen, further resulting in a condition that immediately elicits hydrogen production.
The Housing Units create fresh water and reduce carbon emissions, without requiring the occupant to change their energy-consuming habits. The major difficulty, in hydrogen production by Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, lies in the light inhibition from light intensities higher than 300 Îmol m-2 s-1 which are exceeded during most of the day (6am-6pm)*. This is overcome by optimizing the photobioreactor geometry and the overall process light exposure. Only 35% of the building’s envelope need to be algae panels to create a self sufficient units.
Thomas Kosbau applied this science as a conceptual systems model of algal architectural panels for the winning entry of the Royal Institute of British Architects' International Energy Revolution Competition in 2003. The potential energy in a kilogram of hydrogen is 33.26 kWh. Using the genetically modified algae, a building could be free of fossil fuel energy consumption. When applied to a residential building, our analytic model shows that having algae tanks over 55% of a building's facade would produce enough power for 5 residents at 7.5 kWh/day power consumption. The remaining 45% free facade area allows for a much higher percentage of window openings than a typical building and is an opportunity to maximize passive solar design to further reduce energy consumption.
The revolution of these buildings is that they give back more than they take. This Photosynthetic City creates fresh water and reduces carbon emissions, without requiring the inhabitant to change their energy-consuming habits. The entire complex is sustained as a closed system. The water created from the Hydrogen fuel cell is delivered to each residential unit, as well as the public drinking fountains.
Waste water is filtered and treated by on site living machines. The resulting grey-water is used for irrigation and flushing toilets. The spent algal biomass from the HYDRAL panels is excellent compost for the private and community food producing gardens throughout the site. Seasonal crops can be eaten directly, donated to local shelters, or sold at the local farmers’ market.
Hydrogen is harvested and transferred to the building's central core, where combined heating and power fuel cells create heat as a by-product of burning hydrogen for electricity. The resulting heat and electricity is distributed to each residential unit, powering typical devices and appliances as well as air conditioning units, water heaters, and heaters.
The City Block is literally a green oasis amongst a concrete and steel backdrop. Planted ramps meet public plazas, offering continuous open circulation to the park-like area above the commercial plinth, in which shops and shoppers are cooled by the planted roof. The housing units are oriented to maximize passive cooling in summer and solar heat gain in winter. Below the commercial plinth, hydrogen-car park and refuel.