World’s first ‘biosolar leaf’ aims to tackle White City air pollution

Imperial College London (ICL) has paired up with a tech start-up company to tackle air pollution on its White City campus by trialling a pioneering ‘biosolar’ leaf.

The brand-new technology designed by Arborea, founded by an Imperial alumnus, purifies air using the photosynthesis of microscopic plants, replacing greenhouse gases with fresh oxygen.

The college will give Arborea funding to set up an outdoor pilot of their cultivation system at the college’s White City Campus South Site.

The move comes as part of Imperial College’s aims to limit the environmental impact of its work in the Shepherd’s Bush district.

Professor Neil Alford, associate provost (academic planning) at Imperial College London, said: ‘Air pollution is one of London’s most urgent challenges, and Imperial is committed to finding sustainable and resilient solutions to this threat.

‘This collaboration with Arborea is an exceptional opportunity to showcase the power of Cleantech at our White City Campus. Through our White City masterplan we are bringing forward sustainable solutions that have the potential to improve environmental outcomes in west London, throughout the UK, and across the world.’

An artist’s impression of Arborea panels on London roofs. Credit: Imperial College London // Thomas Glover

Arborea’s pioneering cultivation system facilitates the growth of tiny plant life such as microalgae on large solar panel-like structures.

These structures can be installed on land, buildings and other developments to improve air quality in the surrounding area.

According to the team, Arborea’s cultivation system can remove carbon dioxide at the rate equivalent to one hundred trees in the surface area of just one tree.

The system also provides a sustainable source of organic biomass which can be used to help produce plant-based food products.

Julian Melchiorri, founder and CEO of Arborea, said: ‘We are proud to be part of the world-class innovation district that is flourishing at White City and excited about this new collaboration with Imperial.

‘In our ever-growing modern cities, cooperation between start-ups, academic institutions and governmental bodies is critical to enable and accelerate sustainable innovation that benefits both our society and environment.’

Throughout the course of the project, the pilot will be used to show how technology can address environmental and social issues in real world conditions.

It is planned that the pilot will also be used as part of outreach activities with school students in the White City area.

Recent findings of a joint report by Imperial College London and King’s College London found that four Londoners are hospitalised every day due to air pollution-induced asthma.