water lilly algal bloom from cesare griffa on Vimeo.

Water Lilly is a family of intelligent architecture components conceived to act as photobioreactors to grow micro-algae within the built environment. We’ve been working on that since 2012 collaborating with Prof. Mario Tredici and his amazing team of micro-biologists at the University of Florence.

We believe cultivating healthy food within the built environment is a crucial issue. Integrating microalgae cultivations within architecture is a way to create virtuous symbiotic behaviors that tend to close loops: reducing the building CO2 emissions, purifying air and grey waters, enhancing passive behaviors through the algal thermal mass, and producing food to be used by local communities.

The Lillies so far:

WaterLilly 20 (2019)
WaterLilly 3.17 (2017)
WaterLilly 2.0 (2014)
WaterLilly 1.1 (2012)
WaterLilly 1.0 (2012)
Bioskin (2015)
MiniLilly (2015)
LillyBot 2.0 (2014)
LillyBot 1.0 (2013)
DemoLilly (2013)
Lilly Starter Kit (2013)

The Lillies create the conditions for growing photosynthetic organisms (phytoplankton, micro-algae) in a closed biologically active controlled environment (photobioreactor – PBR) within architecture. We think there are four main relevant issues to be discussed:

1. Food: it has been maybe over-discussed over the last few years, but it still a major point when talking about the future of humanity in this planet. Malnutrition and undernutrition are among the most scary threats we already face. And arable land is reducing. And population is growing. Polyunsaturated acids Omega 3, antioxidants and veggie proteins are only a few of the healthy nutrients we can get from algae to ameliorate our health. We think that cultivating healthy food within the built environment is a crucial issue to be addressed. Also insects are interesting, but algae are definitely easier to integrate in the western culture.

2. Energy: well, first of all, let’s clarify that, with today’s technologies, it is not possible to efficiently produce energy with algae. The EROI is very low, and we honestly don’t know anybody in the world that is able to grow, harvest and down-stream process algae for bio-fuels spending less energy that what is produced at the end. But it remains a crucial issue, also because at the end of the day, as photosynthetic organisms, they are capable to transform water, CO2 and solar light into chemical energy that is what we, humans, need in all forms.

3. Symbiotic behaviors: architectural photobioreactors are more expensive and produce less biomass compared to industrial ones. To make money out of the biomass, one should go for an industrial system. What is interesting in integrating microalgae cultivations within buildings is the possibility to create virtuous symbiotic behaviors that tend to close loops: reducing CO2 emissions from the thermal plants, purifying air, purifying grey waters, producing food to be used locally, etc.

4. Origins: it’s the less technical, but maybe the more inspirational topic: microalgae (cyanobacteria) are the origins of life as we know it on our planet. They are responsible of the Oxygen Catastrophe some 2.5 billions years ago that created the atmospheric conditions for us to be here, and the idea of going back to them to restore our atmosphere is fascinating. They were here much before us, and will stay much longer. Let’s collaborate!

Water Lilly components have been presented and exhibited in the following events:

Conceived and designed by Cesare Griffa, every Lilly has been created by a vast team involving collaborations with other designers, institutions (including Politecnico di Torino, MIT Senseable City Lab), and companies (including Arduino, Fotosintetica & Microbiologica) that share the common background of  exploring a more sustainable future based on digital technologies, bio-hacking and sharing knowledge.

22 thoughts on “WaterLillies

  1. su technogeek in occasione del compleanno del fablab torino e presentazione della makerfaire di roma: http://www.technonews.it/2013/02/18/technogeek-meet-the-makers/

  2. WaterLilly 2.0 è un sistema per coltivare microalghe sulle facciate architettoniche. L’attività fotosintetica delle microalghe è molto più intensa di quella degli organismi vegetali più complessi. Ne risulta una maggiore capacità di assorbimento di CO2 e maggiore produzione di ossigeno. I nutrienti di cui hanno bisogno per la concimazione sono ricchi in nitrati e fosfati, normalmente presenti nelle acque reflue di uso domestico.

    Le alghe crescendo in ambiente urbano purificano aria e acqua.

    Le microalghe crescono fino a saturare la soluzione acquosa. A quel punto vanno raccolte e la biomassa ottenuta può essere usata per la produzione di proteine per l’industria alimentare, omega 3 e altre vitamine per l’industria nutraceutica, molecole farmaceutiche e cosmetiche, bioplastiche e biocarburanti come etanolo e biodiesel. Nel frattempo la cultura riparte, e nel giro di poche settimane si può procedere a un nuovo raccolto.

    1. Waterlilly 2.0 is a system for cultivating microalgae on architectural facades. The photosynthetic activity of microalgae is much more intense than that of more complex vegetable organisms, resulting in a greater capacity to fix CO2 and increased O2 production. The nutrients needed for fertilization are rich in nitrates and phosphates, normally present in the waste water from domestic use.

      While growing in an urban environment, microalgae purify air and water.

      Microalgae grow to saturate the water solution. At that point they need to be collected and the biomass obtained can be used for the production of proteins for the food industry, omega 3 and other vitamins for the nutraceutical industry, cosmetic and pharmaceutical molecules, bioplastics and biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. Meanwhile, the culture starts again, and within a few weeks you can proceed to a new crop.

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