Mind & Matter


The Next Renewable Energy Focus: Biophotovoltaics

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Biophotovoltaic (BPV) interface research on show during the London Design Festival.


Scientists at many universities struggle to emulate the process of photosynthesis in manufactured photovoltaic cells in order to achieve more efficient energy conversion. Meanwhile, Cambridge University researchers have been attempting to tap into nature itself for power. Cambridge scientist Paola Bombelli collaborated with designers Alex Driver and Carlos Peralta to develop energy-harnessing interfaces at a variety of scales.

Planned for display at London Design Week from September 22 to 25, their biophotovoltaic (BPV) designs range from plant-powered table lamps to giant algae-coated lily pads that aggregate to form offshore power plants, generating 5 to 6 watts per square meter. According to the designers, these algae farms would also "generate energy during the night as a result of excess electrons being stored inside the algal cells during daylight hours." This interdisciplinary research promises exciting future explorations in the area of living surfaces (literally).




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.