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The paint that breathes: a breakthrough in green living technology

Learn how a water-based paint with living cyanobacteria can produce oxygen, capture carbon, and cre…
Researchers have created a biocoating containing cyanobacteria (green) that produces oxygen and can capture carbon dioxide. Credit: University of Surrey

Imagine a paint that can turn any surface into a living ecosystem, producing oxygen and capturing carbon dioxide while enhancing the aesthetic appeal of your home or office. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, not anymore. Researchers at the University of Surrey in the UK have developed a water-based paint that contains living cyanobacteria, which are microorganisms that can perform photosynthesis and produce oxygen while capturing carbon dioxide. The paint is called “green living paint” and it is a novel approach to combat climate change and air pollution.

What are cyanobacteria and why are they important?

Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest and most diverse groups of organisms on Earth. They are also known as blue-green algae, although they are not true algae. They are prokaryotes, which means they do not have a nucleus or other membrane-bound organelles. They have a simple structure, but they have a complex function: they can convert light energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis, using water as an electron donor and releasing oxygen as a by-product. They are also capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, which is essential for the synthesis of amino acids and proteins.

Cyanobacteria are important for several reasons. First, they are responsible for producing most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, which makes life possible for animals and plants. Second, they are a major source of organic carbon, which is the basis of all living matter. Third, they are involved in various biogeochemical cycles, such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur cycles, which regulate the Earth’s climate and environment. Fourth, they have a high potential for biotechnology applications, such as biofuels, bioplastics, pharmaceuticals, and food supplements.

How does green living paint work?

Green living paint is a water-based paint that contains living cyanobacteria suspended in a gel-like matrix. The researchers used a species of cyanobacteria called Chroococcidiopsis cubana, which can survive in extreme environments such as deserts and space stations. The paint can be applied to various surfaces, such as walls, roofs, or furniture, using a spray or a brush. The paint needs to be exposed to light and water to activate the cyanobacteria and enable them to perform photosynthesis and produce oxygen while capturing carbon dioxide.

The researchers tested the paint under different conditions and found that it can produce oxygen at a rate of 0.3 micromoles per hour per square centimeter of surface area. This means that one square meter of painted surface can produce about 10 liters of oxygen per day, which is enough to support one person’s breathing needs. The paint can also capture about 4 grams of carbon dioxide per square meter per day, which is equivalent to the amount emitted by driving a car for 18 kilometers.

The researchers also found that the paint can reduce water consumption by up to 50%, compared to conventional paints. This is because the water used to activate the cyanobacteria is recycled within the paint system and does not evaporate or leak out. The paint can also retain its functionality for up to three months without any maintenance or replenishment.

What are the benefits and challenges of green living paint?

Green living paint has several benefits for both humans and the environment. First, it can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by capturing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Second, it can help conserve water resources by recycling water within the paint system. Third, it can enhance the aesthetic appeal and well-being of indoor and outdoor spaces by creating a natural and dynamic look. Fourth, it can provide educational opportunities for children and adults to learn about cyanobacteria and photosynthesis.

However, green living paint also faces some challenges that need to be addressed before it can be widely adopted. First, it needs to be optimized for different climates and seasons, as the performance of cyanobacteria may vary depending on the temperature, humidity, and light intensity. Second, it needs to be tested for safety and durability, as the cyanobacteria may pose health risks or cause damage to the surfaces or structures they are applied to. Third, it needs to be scaled up for mass production and distribution, as the current method of making the paint is labor-intensive and time-consuming.

What is the future of green living paint?

Green living paint is a promising innovation that could revolutionize the way we decorate our homes and offices while contributing to environmental sustainability. The researchers at the University of Surrey are working on improving the performance and efficiency of the paint by exploring different species of cyanobacteria and different formulations of the gel matrix. They are also collaborating with industrial partners to commercialize the product and make it available to consumers.

Green living paint is not only a product but also a concept that opens up new possibilities for green living technology. The researchers envision that the paint could be integrated with other systems, such as solar panels, water harvesting devices, or smart sensors, to create a synergistic and self-sustaining network. They also hope that the paint could inspire other researchers and designers to develop more innovative and creative solutions that use living organisms to enhance our lives and protect our planet.


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