Clean Air & Clean Food: BioSolar Leaves

Written by Shelly Duncan

With 2020 approaching (yep I know haven’t we only just started 2019?) people are already looking to Europe and the EU to see just how they are going in reaching their renewable energy targets. This means climate change and clean air is firmly back in the public eye again.

This also means lots of cool and interesting developments around technology, and as a bit of a closet geek (okay maybe not so closet), I’m always on the lookout for emerging techs that are going to make a difference to our society and the world at large.

One such technology I’ve come across is by a British start up called Arborea. These guys have developed a system called “BioSolar Leaf”.

This is a first of its kind system that on the surface looks like bright green solar panels. However they are not generating electricity, but rather, they are teeming with microscopic plants such as microalga and phytoplankton, that purify the air.

BioSolar Leaf panels on London rooftops.
Image: Imperial College London/Thomas Glover

According to Arborea, the microplants use energy from the sun, water and CO2 in order to live and grow and release oxygen into the air through photosynthesis. They claim the BioSolar Leaves on a panel the surface area of a tree can clean the air at the same rate as 100 trees.

The benefits don’t stop with air purification though. The plants also produce a protein that is extracted and used to create plant-based food products.

BioSolar Leaves are hitting two birds with one stone. Not only are Arborea looking at addressing the issue of climate change but also the challenges to our global food system with our ever-growing population.


How to feed our population while not destroying our planet has been a challenge that has gained a lot of focus in recent years in combination with the effect it will have on the environment. By 2050 it is expected that there will be nearly 10 billion people and the demand for food will be 70% more than it is today, according to the World Economic Forum.

I’ll be honest… I’m not a vegan, I do eat meat though I tend towards a higher vegetable content with minimal meat that comes from organic small-holding farms. But I also know I am lucky to live in a wealthy westernised country with access to food and funds so I have that choice, while much of the world does not.

I’m not sure how I feel about a diet of seaweed, spirulina and micro-algae. But certainly, we need to look towards companies like Arborea who are making great headway into technologies that address many of our growing challenges.

You can learn more about the pilot project to test Arborea’s BioSolar Leaf technology in conjunction with the Imperial College London Campus in the video below

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Shelly Duncan

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