Pond Scum

The algae biofuel revolution you need to know about!

carbon, ecology, economy, energy efficiency, infrastructure, open space planning


Charles B. Neer, Dixi Wang


Erin K. Roark


Suvir R. Hira

If oil extraction in the 20th century caused a drain on resources and over-taxed the planet’s atmosphere, maybe the 21st century can ignite the biofuel revolution that reverses our carbon demand.



But what life form will lead this revolution? Algae might be the answer—a tiny single-celled plant widely considered the most promising option for the future of biofuels for several reasons:

  • As part of the photosynthesis process, algae produce 1,000 to 5,000 gallons of oil per acre, 15 times more than other plants used for biofuels, such as corn and switchgrass.
  • Oil collected from algae looks very similar, chemically, to crop oils and can be converted to renewable fuel using existing technology.
  • It can grow anywhere as long as it has basic nutrient inputs and sunlight, and its growth rate allows for daily harvesting.
  • Algae production does not interfere with human food production cycles or fresh water resources.
  • Algae may have the potential to thrive with increased inputs of carbon dioxide, to reduce existing emissions of carbon dioxide, or untreated sewage solids, which could aid in wastewater treatment.

The development of biofuels produced outside of the food production cycle, can create a new green economy generating thousands of new jobs and a new green infrastructure, in essence creating an algae economy.

But questions still remain:

  • How will the new algae infrastructure function in the context of future landscapes?
  • How will this alter our cultural and physical landscape?


Algae biofuels can change our perspective of how public open space will operate in the future. Underutilized landscapes in urban environments could potentially be used for bio-fuel “farms” proactively creating a sustainable environment. The new algae economy provides a platform to initiate an ecological and architectural discourse to fold these typologies into public open space creating productive landscapes. Hopefully, algae can become the forerunner of the 21st century biofuel revolution.

iba hamburg biq 2 nnw
BIQ House, designed by ARUP and Splitterwerk Architects, is powered by algae.
NordNordWest, Lizenz via Wikimedia Commons