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The incredible BioSolar Leaf works to purify the air of even the busiest cities

Quick Notes

  • Imperial College London and startup company Arborea have collaborated on a project that could revolutionize air pollution

  • Essentially a solar panel covered in organic microorganisms, the BioSolar Leaf has a twofold positive effect on the environment

  • CEO Melchiorri hopes to use pioneering technology to combat some of the most pressing climate change issues

With climate change becoming an increasingly prominent issue for the modern world, it’s no surprise that innovative science is turning its attention to reversing some of the damage pollution incurs. One such innovation comes in the form of the new BioSolar Leaf, which aims to combat city pollutants.

Imperial College London and startup company Arborea have paired together to create this intriguing piece of technology. The BioSolar Leaf’s function is fairly simple in practice. Through the photosynthesis of microscopic plants, the BioSolar Leaf absorbs greenhouse gases and replaces them with breathable oxygen.

These microscopic plants are grown along the surfaces of solar panels, which can then be installed on the sides or roofs of buildings, along roads, or in any urban development. Once installed, these solar panels work to purify the air in the surrounding area and effectively work to reduce the carbon footprint of an entire city.

These solar panels are alive, and they’re fighting pollution

The solar panels are covered in microscopic plants such as microalgae, diatoms, and phytoplankton. Due to their tiny size, hundreds of them can be fitted along the solar panel structure, making them incredibly effective at absorbing the surrounding carbon dioxide and pumping out breathable oxygen instead.

Even more incredible than that is the rate of purification that the BioSolar Leaf can achieve. The team behind the design –  Arborea – have stated that just one BioSolar Leaf solar panel can absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide and produce the same amount of oxygen as one hundred trees while taking up the space of just one.

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As if that wasn’t enough to make the BioSolar Leaf a pretty stunning addition to the green movement, Arborea has also made the world of plant-based diets just that bit more achievable. Due to the organic microorganisms that grow on these solar panels, they double as a sustainable source of nutritious food additives.

The mastermind behind Arborea is Julian Melchiorri, and the incredible BioSolar Leaf panels aren’t the first demonstration of his air-purifying inventions. In 2017, CEO Melchiorri unveiled the bionic chandelier, a structure covered in organic microorganisms (much like the BioSolar Leaf panels), and purified the air around it. It still hangs in the V&A to this day.

Even air that is classified as ‘clean’ can still have a damaging effect on our planet

Professor Neil Alford from Imperial College London states, “Air pollution is one of London’s most urgent challenges, and Imperial is committed to finding sustainable and resilient solutions to this threat.” It isn’t just England’s capital that could benefit from some heavy implementation of Biosolar Leaf panels either.

While the vast majority of the UK and European countries are classified as having clean air, this doesn’t take into account the strain greenhouse gases put on our ozone layer. As the ozone layer thins, temperatures rise along with sea levels, which can have disastrous effects on the environment.

There’s a long way to go before we’re in the clear with climate change, but this is undoubtably a profound step in the right direction

CEO Melchiorri’s predominant motivation for the BioSolar Leaf project was twofold: purify the air of cities where carbon dioxide pollution is critical, and help to soothe some of the more pressing issues relating to food availability. BioSolar Leaf achieves both of these, with its astonishing ability to purify such a high volume of air while taking up such little space.

Melchiorri is quoted as saying, “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.” There’s a long way to go before we’re in the clear with climate change, but this is undoubtedly a profound step in the right direction.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101:

It isn’t just cities that are to blame for damaging the ozone layer; the beef industry has a lot to answer for

The BioSolar Leaf isn’t the only innovative form of technology inspired by nature; it’s actually a growing theme!

Thankfully, Arborea isn’t alone in its efforts to combat climate change, here’s a list of several other successful projects