This New Algae Farm Makes Growing Green Superfood at Home a Snap
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This New Algae Farm Makes Growing Green Superfood at Home a Snap

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By Duncan Nielsen
Rhode Island School of Design graduate Hyunseok An puts algae on the menu with a home farming kit.

Did you know algae is a superfood? It's a single-cell protein packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—and it's such a valuable nutritional supplement that NASA astronauts bring it along on long-term missions. It also processes carbon dioxide 10 times better than terrestrial plants, and the 1974 UN World Food Conference deemed algae "the most ideal food for mankind."

So why don't we eat more of it? There are obvious "yuck" and "why" factors preventing most people from growing and eating algae—after all, farming something that resembles stagnant pond scum doesn’t have a ton of appeal as decor, or as dinner. RISD grad Hyunseok An has taken aim at this kind of dismissal by introducing a beautifully designed algae farm for the home. 

The Coral inlays evoke the importance of healthy ecosystems.

The Coral inlays evoke the importance of healthy ecosystems.

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Dubbed The Coral, the farm is kind of like a well-maintained aquarium—without the fish. Sixteen transparent patterned cubes fit snugly between wooden crosshairs, and each container can regenerate its algae population once every two weeks. When the cubes turn viscous and deep green, the bounty of nutrient-rich algae is ready for consumption.

A seres of algae bioreactors show the superfood at various stages of growth.

A seres of algae bioreactors show the superfood at various stages of growth.

"The Coral is…designed to rebuild a relationship with algae in our everyday lives," says An. "[The] wall-mounted bioreactor proposes a daily ritual for algae consumption through home algae farming activities." 

The cubes are filled with nutrient-dense algae and they regenerate every two weeks. 

The cubes are filled with nutrient-dense algae and they regenerate every two weeks. 

An’s algae farm bears a symbolic name. As ocean temperatures rise, coral reefs are becoming more susceptible to bleaching—a phenomenon in which coral expels all of the algae from its tissues, leaving it stark white and lifeless. As An’s farm produces algae, each cube’s color transitions from a light, translucent green, to a deep, rich hue, restoring vitality and lifeblood to The Coral.

Since each cube's algae population matures at different times, they can be individually plucked from the grid for consumption.

Since each cube's algae population matures at different times, they can be individually plucked from the grid for consumption.

In addition to being a healthy food for humans, algae is an outstanding alternative to traditional livestock feed. Subbing out just two percent of feed for algae (or similar microbial proteins) could reduce greenhouse gasses by 7 percent, and increase available cropland by 6 percent.

Algae's benefits are clear: it's affordable, sustainable, and nutrient-dense. How you decide to eat it is up to you.

The algae containers are imprinted with patterns reminiscent of coral reefs.

The algae containers are imprinted with patterns reminiscent of coral reefs.