17 | AGO | 2019
Mexican scientists purify air with microalgae
Microalgae can clean air through photosynthesis – Photo: Taken from BiomiTech’s Facebook account

Mexican scientists purify air with microalgae

10/08/2019
14:40
Newsroom
Mexico City
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A BioUrban system is able to introduce 3,000 cubic meters of polluted air per hour and expulse the same amount of clean air

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Carlos Monroy Sampieri, biologist from the University of Veracruz, created the company BiomiTech with the objective of developing systems to mitigate environmental pollution in the setting of urban mobility. They are active since 2016 and currently have a catalog of different products.

Since 2012, the World Health Organization reported 7 million deaths a year caused by air pollution. In recent reports, the WHO revealed that 91% of the world’s population is exposed to atmospherical contaminants.

To solve this global problem, the Mexican company BiomiTech has created BioUrban 2.0, a tower that takes contaminants from the air and gives clean air to the population.

BioUrban 2.0 is a 4-meter high building that purifies the air from contaminants, such as carbon dioxide, through the natural process of photosynthesis of living microalgae, during the 24 hours of the 365 days of the year.

“The system induces 3,200 square meters per hour of polluted air, which works as food for the microalgae inside the tower,” says Jaime Ferrer, co-founder of BiomiTech.

The algae they use are of a species developed by themselves and that has the ability to absorb great amounts of pollution.
 

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Particulate matter, the contaminant that abounds in big urban areas, comes from construction sites, fires, unpaved roads, etc., and is composed of particles from chemical reactions, like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ammonia, coal, metallic ashes, among others, and it is a huge risk for humans.

Reports from the WHO revealed that particulate matter causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and even cancer. Currently, 1 out of every 8 deaths in the world is due to exposure to polluted air.

Only in Mexico, 14,600 people die yearly due to exposure to PM 2.5 particles, according to information of the National Institute for Public Health (INSP).

BiomiTech’s project has been awarded all around the world. They won the Latam Edge Awards 2018 in London, England, and received the Recognition to Technological Innovation in the Contamination Expo Series 2018, an event designed to promote cutting-edge technology and engineering solution focused on the prevention, detection, and management of air contaminants in Birmingham, United Kingdom. In Mexico, they won the Heineken Green Challenge 2019.

Two years ago, their first system was installed in Puebla, outside the Cultural Complex of the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP), as part of a government initiative. In Monterrey, Nuevo León, the association “Más Oxígeno” collected the money to buy a system through the sale of t-shirts.

Other systems have been installed in Turkey and at the University of Medellín in Colombia, where they are conducting tests to see if the tower can work in industrial areas. One more is located in London to be certified and a while ago the first of 20 was inaugurated in Panamá, which was paid with citizen money.
 

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The big starting step
The first important contest Carlos and his team won was the Cleantech Challenge Mexico, a contest among green companies in which they were one of the finalists. Back then, they did not have resources nor money. Later, they participate in the Sloan Latin American Startup Competition, organized by MIT. Thanks to that contest, investment sources started to appear and they could catch the attention of media in Mexico.

Thanks to the international organization Endeavour High Impact Entrepreneurship, Carlos and his team met an urban mobility company with the objective to create something bigger than a filter for tailpipes: to innovate in biotechnology and conceive the first system in the world able to deal with environmental pollution. Hence, BiomiTech was born and later, BioUrban 2.0

The first stage of the project consisted of the isolation of algae and took place at the University of Veracruz. Then, they went to an innovation center in Xalapa, where they created the patents, and last, in the city of Puebla, they started to work on the idea of BioUrban 2.0.

The product is still on tests, but now under real conditions. Until now, they have the license of the Mexican Organization of Accreditation and they have the patent as pioneers in the development of bioremediation of air through microorganisms.

Carlos Monroy considers that it is a great challenge to be at the forefront of this kind of solution. "First it was a startup, then a company and now it’s for the public,” declares the co-founder and main developer of BiomiTech.
 

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Technology inspired by nature
The towers do not seek to replace trees; they could not. Carlos says that the comparisons that have been generated between the BioUrban system and a tree are due to bad publicity done by some media outlets.

The goal of BioUrban is to clean the air, and it does it through a natural process, as if it were a tree; however, “a tree is also a refuge for lives, like birds.

“It generates other kinds of benefits, which the tower does not. Comparing them to trees has even caused uncertainty and mistrust,” said Carlos Monroy in interview with EL UNIVERSAL.

For each sold BioUrban, they plant 368 trees in communities. In addition, the biomass that is generated by the residues of the algae has a high lipid and protein content, and can be used as biofuel; a circular system and, as every filter, BioUrban has a saturation process. Algae residues must be taken away each four to six months; nonetheless, the following models could have a more automatic design that allows depositing waste in parks through droppers and even an inside harvester.

The waste generated by the tower could be reused as compost for plants; that is what Carlos Monroy calls “intelligent wetlands.” They are also planning new models to count with rainfall collectors and an internal algae harvester.

A BioUrban system is able to introduce 3,000 cubic meters of polluted air per hour and expulse the same amount of clean air. It contributes to the generation of solar energy, which is re-injected to the public network of the National Energy Commission (CFE). In addition, through accessories, people can charge the batteries of their cellphones.

There is also equipment designed for domestic use. The company supplies the algae consumables and thus the user can enjoy clean air in his house. BioUrban 1.0, which is 1.8 meters high, is equivalent to the breathing of 28 people per day and its price is competitive with conventional air filters in the market.

Additionally, it represents a sustainable investment in the long term. According to data of the Inegi, in 2017, atmospherical pollution in Mexico was the biggest environmental expense, with a cost of MXN $619,114,000,000 million.

BioUrban is a project in favor of the environment to promote the use of electric cars, solar energy, reduce the use of fossil fuels, and more. It is another piece withing everything that has to be done to take care of the air and the environment. Its developers hope that this technology expands soon to different countries with allies who are able to operate it.

 

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