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International Airport is going green to clean the air

Global Goals & Global Society
International Airport is going green to clean the air

Thousands of travelers have already passed by an eight-foot-tall installation at the Pittsburgh International Airport that has enormous lit tubes of green bubbling liquid.

It is not a work of art; rather, it is an air purifier made up of more than 100 gallons of algae that produce oxygen through photosynthesis by absorbing carbon dioxide.

The aerium, built by East Liberty-based startup Algenair, is presently situated next to a former Starbucks in the baggage claim area.

""Oh, are you putting the Starbucks back?" people kept asking as we were installing it, so I think we actually let a lot of people down. "“- Kelsey Abernathy, co-founder and CEO of Algenair, stated with a smile.

People are frequently shocked to find that high indoor carbon dioxide levels have been connected to symptoms including headache, weariness, and dizziness, she claimed. In addition, research cited by Algenair shows that they impair decision-making, cognitive function, and workplace productivity.

Dan Fucich, a co-founder of Abernathy, said the "sick building syndrome" condition's negative health effects are particularly significant in today's tightly sealed, energy-efficient structures. They hold onto more of the carbon dioxide that humans exhale.

So, he added, "we're suffocating in the structures that we think are beneficial for the environment, but the people within are suffering." We seek to replace the need to compromise human health for energy efficiency with living technology, such as our aeriums.

According to Algenair, the aerium at the airport has the ability to photosynthesize more than 5,000 plants. It is a bigger version of a purifier that the business already offers to consumers directly to sanitize the air in a single room.

Spirulina, or microalgae cells, are suspended in Algenair's special nutrient solution in both products. As the algae absorb more carbon dioxide, they expand and change color from a light translucent green to a dark opaque green. At that point, it is taken away and put to other uses.

The algae can be utilized for compost and fertilizer, among other things. According to Abernathy, it can be sold to produce pigments, food, biofuels, and bioplastic. "This place offers a lot of opportunities. We will therefore investigate various alliances.

As part of a collaboration with the xBridge Innovation Center, a program that enables companies to test goods at airports, Algenair is piloting the unit in baggage claim.

Algenair's "goal for the business is to enhance indoor air quality generally," according to xBridge director Cole Wolfson. "They must begin operating on a commercial basis in order to accomplish that. Additionally, the airport is an eager and excited testing partner for these innovations.

The Pittsburgh airport can incorporate this system, which is the first of its sort anywhere in the world, into its future operations.

When Abernathy and Fucich were doctorate students at the University of Maryland, they formed Algenair four years prior to the release of the pilot. After being accepted into the East Liberty business accelerator for AlphaLab Gear, they moved from Baltimore to Pittsburgh last winter. They were drawn to Pennsylvania, according to Fucich, because of its manufacturing potential.

Fucich stated, "We wanted to [produce] as much as we could in the United States and [make] [our] supply lines as short as possible.”According to Abernathy, Algenair will test its commercial-scale purifier at a nearby business building and school system as well. In 2024, it intends to start selling the device.

Combining sustainable innovations with old useful resources is no longer a rarity these days. This avoids the demolition or dismantling of old means and adds new inventions. This can not only be good for the environment, but also animate other company managers and entrepreneurs of the Global Society for similar projects.


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