Developing a new generation of energy-producing construction components, Grow Energy, of San Diego, California, plans for algae to create clean electricity for residential and commercial structures. Their first system, called Verde, is a technology specifically designed for individual homes. According to the company, Verde employs a clean combustion process to burn algal biomass to create electricity and heat energy, which can significantly offset a property’s utility expenses, if not supplement the entirety of a property’s electricity needs.
The Verde system photobioreactors are algae panels that mount onto a building’s roof or envelope and grow algae by using recycled elements and nutrients in a closed-loop process. Designed to be minimally invasive, the system is compact and meant to be no more intrusive to a home’s aesthetics than solar technology. Grow Energy plans to introduce Verde to the mainstream homeowner market in 2015.
The company was founded by Redondo Beach, CA high school friends John Walsh and Kevin Segal. Their team includes Dr. Benoit Degrenne, an accomplished bioprocess engineer with nearly 10 years of algal bioengineering and photobioreactor design; biofuel and alternative energy activist Josh Tickell; and founder of EcoUsable, Joey Mendelsohn.
The company’s second construction component system in development is called Hydral, which grows genetically modified algae in architectural or utility bioreactors, using an enhanced strain that produces hydrogen gas, instead of oxygen, in its natural photosynthetic process. The hydrogen gas is channeled into a fuel cell(s) and electricity/thermal heat is generated, while the spent algal biomass is recycled as a rich fertilizer. Hydral doubles as a water supply system, connecting to a building’s plumbing to cleanse wastewater, and the fuel cell process generates additional drinking water as well.
Hydral is currently being designed specifically for large-scale properties and communities. Grow Energy eventually plans to have it available for individual property owners, though they feel that it would be more effective in a power utility format or as an architectural element for high-density structures, such as resorts, high-rises, etc.
The company is working with a number of property developers for custom installations in new real estate projects, seeking to define a new style of environmental design with what they call environmentally-beneficial, “living buildings.” Segal Holdings’ partner Ore Design + Technology is the industrial design/architecture firm that customizes Hydral for specific property installations based on a developer’s (or potentially resident’s) preference.
In comparison to Grow’s ﬁrst product line, Verde, which utilizes a combustion process to generate energy from algae, Hydral is a signiﬁcantly more simpliﬁed system that uses modiﬁed algae strains to naturally produce hydrogen gas. Hydral’s algae grows by consuming carbon dioxide from the air, and due to its genetically modiﬁed characteristics, produces hydrogen instead of oxygen in its natural life cycle. The hydrogen produced is collected, stored, and made available to fuel compatible vehicles, as well as in Hydral’s own fuel cell(s) to generate electricity and thermal heat energy for stationary use.
Grow Energy sees Hydral as not just a technology, but as an architectural style for next-generation renewable living, and is developing the system with Ore Design + Technology. Thomas Kosbau, CEO of Ore, won an architectural design competition with Hydral panels at the Royal Institute for British Architects.
Hydral is scheduled to be publicly available to property developers in late 2015. Grow Energy plans that by 2020, they will have small-scale Hydral systems for individual properties as well as experimental utility-scale systems for powering communities and cities. Eventually, they plan to use Hydral to create “algae forests” in remote areas, such as deserts, where large areas of land will be used to grow algae & clean the air while producing energy/fresh water for future developing communities.