Indian Architect Designs Algae Walls That Purify Polluted Water

October 19, 2019 at 11:36 pm

These algae-infused walls treat wastewater naturally and cheaply, removing heavy metals and other pollutants without harsh chemicals

After traveling through India, British architect Shneel Malik wanted to create an affordable low-tech solution to extreme water pollution in the country.

What she came up with was algae.

Like certain types of bacteria and fungus, algae can remove pollutants from our water and soil by eating them.

It’s a developing science called bioremediation, in which beneficial microorganisms are being used to biodegrade plastic, clean up oil spills, and unclog drains.

Small-scale textile dyers and jewelry makers in India rely on water from nearby streams, which are heavily contaminated with cadmium, lead, and arsenic—thanks, in part, to the dyes used to color our clothes.

These toxic metals pollute the groundwater, soil, and air in many Indian communities, causing multi-generational health problems in the community.

Malik and a team of biochemical engineers at University College London found various types of algae capable of removing the toxins.

One particular algae species reduced the concentration of the cadmium 10 times within 45 minutes.

They infused the algae into a seaweed-based hydro-gel and lined specially textured ceramic tiles with it.

The clay tiles were designed by Indian artisans to imitate the veins of a leaf, to evenly distribute water and nutrients over the broadest surface area possible.

The tiles are put together to form modular walls, designed to filter water as it flows down from a wastewater tank on the top of a building.

The passive, gravity-fed filtration system requires no pump or electricity.

The water becomes purified and can be recirculated through the wall if it was particularly polluted to start with.

It’s a low-tech, affordable solution for artisans who don’t have the space or money for Western-style wastewater treatment systems.

Malik hopes to conduct a pilot project in a textile courtyard in India and eventually expand it to expand it to artisan communities.