At COP26, ecoLogicStudio debuts an inflatable machine for living

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At COP26, ecoLogicStudio debuts an inflatable machine for living

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, is winding to a close, and the 100-plus world leaders and more than 25,000 delegates will soon depart come this Friday, November 12. The worldwide conference dedicated to mitigating the worst effects of climate change has resulted in a slew of projects from artists and designers like Olafur Eliasson intended to raise awareness of the looming crisis, but also from architects looking to demonstrate novel approaches to sustainable building.

Enter the London-based ecoLogicStudio, which has erected the climate-controlled inflatable Air Bubble, complete with algae bioreactors lining its balloon chambers, in front of the Glasgow Science Centre as part of COP26’s Green Zone. While U.N. accreditation is required to access the Blue Zone at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), more than 100 public exhibitors have set up shop in the Green Zone on the opposite side of the River Clyde.

people jumping inside of a big inflatable bubble
Inside the Air Bubble, where 12 bioreactors on each wall filter urban air. (©NAARO)

First raised in Warsaw, Poland, ecoLogicStudio’s Air Bubble is a grub-shaped inflatable structure that metaphorically (and literally) envelops visitors in a breath of fresh air. Made from ridged pockets of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), the bubble is surprisingly more high-tech than one would suspect at first glance—a consequence of the green bioreactors installed in the “walls” that filters air with live, edible Chlorella algae.

An array of sensors embedded in the structure help detect air quality inside the bubble, and an outdoor accelerometer detects wind and vibrations and then triggers a pneumatic system to circulate air through a membrane into the bioreactors, and then out back into the bubble. The Air Bubble hosts 24 of these bioreactors, 12 on each side, across a total of only 1,585 gallons of water and 52 gallons of Chlorella cultures. ecoLogicStudio claims that the system can filter up to 100 liters, or approximately 26 gallons, of air every minute and remove up to 75 percent of common urban pollutants and 97 percent of nitrogen. Fresh air is also pumped in through the bubble’s doors to further aid circulation.

A diagram breakdown of the air bubble showing the ballast
(Courtesy ecoLogicStudio)

Because the structure is inflatable, ecoLogicStudio claims that its Air Bubble eco-machine is 99 percent “air, water and living photosynthetic air-purifying Chlorella cultures” by volume and the same techniques could applied to realize the net-zero buildings of the future.

The Air Bubble eco-machine was realized in partnership with Otrivin, and continues the work of PhotoSynthetica, ecoLogicStudio’s innovation-focused venture launched in 2018.

A row of green tubes with someone pouring in the top and another person filtering at the bottom
The BioFactory pilot project in Lisbon. (©Andre Cepeda)

Meanwhile, the bubble isn’t the only project the studio is presenting at COP26. At the Nestlé headquarters in Lisbon, the firm has installed its first BioFactory, an architectural tube system where algae is grown for use both as food and carbon-neutral packaging material. Edible micro-algae is grown using the carbon dioxide produced inside the factory, making the entire system carbon-negative over its lifetime. As the algae grow and adapt to their environment, yields and resiliency should also increase. ecoLogicStudio hopes that the hands-on biomass cultivation system can eventually be scaled up the world over to not only suck carbon from the air, but to strengthen the food supply and give workers hands-on experience with urban farming systems.