Imagine huge bodies of water, giant ponds and lakes and just below the surface are trillions of organisms working 24/7, eating plant life and producing gasoline.
- George Church, envisioning the future of synthetic biofuel production
International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition, 1st place prize in Art & Design
Recreate the World
Synthetic biology assumes a future for modified organisms beyond the lab. Biofuel research is currently focusing on both natural and genetically engineered algae to generate gasoline, with the goal of one day being available for public use. This objective has created a network of open-ponds for algae production. Dispersed across the southwest of the United States, companies are utilizing the environment’s abundance of sunshine - ideal algae growing conditions. As synthetic biology moves out of the lab, to the wild, to factories, to garage labs, to people’s homes what are the potential ecological effects associated with the release of a modified organism?
Car Pools is a series of simulations that examine the potential ecological effects associated with the public release of genetically altered algae for biofuel production. The project draws on current open-pond algae production methods to imagine a future infrastructure of fuel producing pools for the city of Los Angeles, a metropolis built for cars, home to more than 43,000 swimming pools.
The pool is typically viewed as a symbol of suburban leisure, Car Pools recasts it into a site of homegrown fuel production. The oil wells of tomorrow may be in sunny California. The project plays out different scales of interaction, the home, the neighborhood, and the city, to explore potential effects, such as pool wildlife management, neighborhood inculcation and contamination, local fuel production, and Los Angeles resource expansion. How can simulations at both micro and macro scales be used within synthetic biology to expose issues and opportunities beyond the lab? How does the process of live simulations reveal possible implications for the individual, neighborhood, city, and overall energy infrastructure?
“...[Scientists are] embracing a wider vision of nature managed for a wider array of goals. Instead of focusing on the past, they are looking to the future and asking themselves what they’d like it to look like.”
The Largest Importer of Water & Fuel
Designed to take place outside of the lab our experiments looked at the widespread use of genetically altered biofuels as science fact. Assuming that genetically modified algae is released from the control of a lab setting, how is the infrastructure of Los Angeles modified?
The stakes of efficient biofuels are high for Los Angeles: the city is sprawled across a dry basin that is primarily connected by traffic congested highways. The city is dependent on its steady stream of water and gasoline. There are no lucrative fresh water supplies to grow algae for biofuel production in Los Angeles. In fact every ounce of water that is consumed within the city is imported. Unlike other cities that are built on or around water, Los Angeles exists somewhere between the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Gabriel Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
“The only indication of where Doheny first drilled for oil is on the maps of California’s Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources. The site is now the parking lot for a city- owned swimming pool, and the lack of any monument there testifies to how oil is regarded in the region” - Frank Ruchala, Crude City
The water ways and features that it does have come in the form of the ubiquitous and glittering man-made pools spread throughout the backyards of the city. Swimming pools are constantly, chemically monitored and serviced status symbols. They are the turquoise hubs of recreation, social gatherings, and fitness. In a city as thirsty as Los Angeles can they also become a place where Local fuel production begins?
The ecosystem surrounding the pool became our site for investigation; our site to "play out" our design, questions, and speculation. Researching Los Angeles' own history of fetishized backyard aquatics, we found that the density of pools was drastically different from neighborhood to neighborhood. Beverly Hills had the highest concentration of private lagoons, while urban center-city Long Beach had the fewest. Designing an experiment to simulate different community scales, we created our own model pool communities and placed them throughout the city.
We started to grow our own algae as a way to prototype and simulate our localized fuel production model. Creating home growth algae kits, we needed to source algae from around Los Angeles. Samples were pulled from the Huntington Library Koi Pond (pictured right), turtle ponds in Chinatown and at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and from the Los Angeles River.
We decided to simulate two models for the purpose of examining how pools could be used as a biofuel production site in Los Angeles. The first simulation focuses on algae biofuel production at a neighborhood scale, and the second biofuel production on a personal scale.
- Regular “pond” testing for optimal algae growth replace ph testing and shock treatments that swimming pools required
- Daily visit to the pool to agitate the algae and to visually confirm algae production
- White Water Mold is an issue on plastic lined pools
- Mosquito control is of high priority, “Mosquito Dunks” used to control larvae
- Pools invited raccoons, squirrels, cats and possums
- Human expectations of a healthy pool are challenged. After 9 days and brewers yeast feeding algae pools are turbid and brown, begin to emit a mild smell. At this stage they can be seen as an eyesore
- A Green Algae pool is closer to the pride of beautiful green lawn than a swimming pool
- Swimming pool parties became algae pool maintenance parties, guest were fascinated by changes in pool and much of the party becomes standing around the pool and socializing
- There was apprehension or fear of judgement by surrounding neighbors or landlord
- Potential ticketing of pool as a public nuisance by the state
- Algae moved from test pool to control pool in simulations, a biofuel pool could cause algae growth in surrounding ponds, lakes, swimming pools
- Swimming pools need to be safely converted to algae pools, removal of slides, stairs
Our ongoing research looks at Los Angeles consumption of fuel through its culture of swimming pools and water consumption. The resulting iterations change the boundaries of the city, the culture of swimming pools, and send tactical agents into the city in the name of greener pools. How does Los Angeles sustainably produce enough fuel for its population through known algae fuel production methods? How does the conversion happen? What if a community is responsible for the cities conversion to the algae biofuel production.
LA Algae Fuel Belt looking at higher concentrations of CO2 and existing pools. Los Angeles swallows parts of the San Bernardino County and Ventura county to create a large enough number of active pools to use for algae production. Pools for Fuel, LA is concerned Angelinos for a greener Los Angeles. At a “Pools for Fuel Pool Party” pools are converted using a “Go Green!” Local Algae Fuel Production starter kit. All of the parts to convert your pool can be found at a local hardware and grocery store. The conversion is done by the team.
Ian Besler, Jasmin Blasco, Aaron Fooshee, Kristina Ortega, Jenny Rodenhouse and Xiaochen Yang