"Hydrogenase" airships

Quite often new technologies emerge from interactions between different fields of science due to synergistic effects. For example, new developments in bioengineering can open a new page in the energy sector and simultaneously create a new environmentally friendly transport technology that can cardinally change the way we are thinking about our living environments. We are talking about the "Hydrogenase" concept by a Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut. This project is a mind-blowing mix of a skyscraper with an airship, a bioreactor and hanging gardens.

The name of an enzyme playing an important role in photosynthesis reaction chains, the project title "Hydrogenase" gives one a clue that its focus is on creating a self-sufficient organic structure. Much progress in the biotechnological hydrogen production has been achieved around the globe in the past ten years. Hydrogen production is an excellent example. Some species of microalgae (Chlamydomonas reinhardtii seaweeds) in certain conditions are known to actively produce hydrogen. According to scientists a hectare of seaweeds could produce up to 120 times more energetically valuable biofuels than a hectare of colza, soya or sunflower. Based on such studies architects came up with the ideas of environmentally neutral cities, supplying themselves with the  "green" energy.

 The crux of the Mr. Callebaut's concept is the idea that hydrogen can serve both as lifting gas and as fuel alike. The filling stations placed on artificial sea islands would then become both landing sites and hydrogen bio-farms. Additional power for such sites would come from water turbines utilizing the energy of ocean currents and waves. Such islands could float anywhere, far in the open ocean or close to the coast where they could combine the roles of convenient passenger hubs and bioreactor plants supplying the coastal cities with green energy and extending the urban or agricultural land. Such islands could provide the airships and even the coast with hydrogen, at the same time helping to absorb CO2 and recycle organic waste.

The airship is designed as a semi-rigid dirigible balloon, 480 meters tall and 180 meters wide, with the volume of 250,000 cubic meters and the  weight of approximately 200 tons. According to the architect's plan, two gases, helium and hydrogen, will provide the ascensional power for this unit. The hydrogen can be compressed by a board compressor and injected into a compact container, if the buoyancy of the vessel should be reduced for a quick descent. The gas can be released back into the multistage elastic lifting tubes if the vehicle needs to become lighter than air again. Engineers also forsee that various kinds of renewable energy sources can be integrated in the flying unit. The power consumed by the 20 inlayed turbo-propellers with recuperation of energy can come from flexible photovoltaic plants on the surface of the airship, from fuel cells and also from small bioreactors recycling organic waste. These 20 wind propellers distributed along the hull of the airship will suffice both for take-off and for maintaining the navigation speed of up to 175 km/h. The airship should be able to reach the altitude of two kilometers. The anticipated flight range is up to 10 thousand kilometers.

It is clear that the lighter-than-air craft can not replace the conventional aircrafts in mass transportation due to its slowness. However, a variety of different roles, from air hotel or private flying yacht to ocean monitoring, research station or  serving as a  flying hospital in humanitarian actions. The airship offers a lot of space that can be used as residential areas, offices, laboratories and entertainment areas, as well as miniature gardens farm (eight separate sites). Therefore, we believe that this project can also serve as a permanent settlement. As the author of the project puts it,

On top of absorbing the solar energy, this flying castle draws its inspiration from the biomimicry technologies and is built in lighter and more resistant composite materials (fibreglass and carbon fibre) in order to reduce the weight of its structure at the maximum. The fitting is thus self cleaning, in nanostructured glass inspired from the lotus leave that does not get wet. The vessel is thus made of "intelligent layers" avoiding for example the accumulation of ice or snow and "self-separable ceramics" offering a bigger resistance to the split and that fill the cracks. This bionic coating draws also its inspiration from shark skin that enables without being toxic to avoid the adhesion of bacteria whereas the four wings present irregularities of surface, as the finely beaded whale fins do, in order to reduce the turbulences.

We are really looking forward implementations of the stunning ideas like this one. If you like it, consider buying a book by Vincent Callebaut in which he writes about this and fruther projects of his.