Elon Musk thinks we should go to Mars to save mankind from extinction. But why don't we start using the space we have on this blue planet? And create floating cities that extract CO2 from the atmosphere? Start up Blue21 is working on it.
What is Blue21?
Rutger de Graaf, co-founder and civil engineer: "Blue21 wants to start a blue revolution by realizing floating cities with a positive impact on the planet. A huge goal we can't achieve by ourselves. That's why Blue21 is a social enterprise. People can join us, whether they're water experts or not. The core team is a group of civil engineers, architects and researchers, specialized in designing and building projects on the water, like the Floating Pavilion in Rotterdam and floating eco homes in Delft."
Why did you start Blue21?
"Because we believe building on the water could solve urgent global problems. With sea levels rising and more extreme weather, more flooding will occur in cities along the coast. Floating cities automatically adapt to the rising water level and may even become flood shelters during emergency situations. Current trends indicate that by the end of this century we may require up to 22 million km2 of land to live, and grow sufficient food and biofuels. On water, there is plenty of space."
Sounds like bad news for the environment…
"That would be true, if we build floating cities the same way as we build them on land. However, floating cities offer opportunities to do a better job on providing local water supply and waste water treatment, smarter transportation systems and using the water to produce local energy and food. Innovations on land seem to focus on minimizing the impact on the planet, but we believe it's possible to actually have a positive impact and boost aquatic ecosystems as part of floating cities."
What do you mean by a having positive impact?
"First of all, to build in a way that is beneficial to animals and plants. We actually put our projects to the test. In order to measure the impact of floating buildings, we've built underwater drones that monitor the aquatic environment. We found that beneath floating projects all over the Netherlands new ecosystems arise, with small fish, algea, shellfish and plants. And those buildings weren't even designed to do so. What if we would design buildings that maximize this ecological potential? One of our architects is currently doing research on this as part of her PhD study."
"Currently, cities are draining energy and resources from the planet, while producing wastewater and CO2 in return. What if we start using these as a resource? Wastewater is full of nutrients that we can use to grow biomass or food in floating farms. And CO2 can be captured and reused as a resource for crops or algae. We calculated that growing food and biomass on the water could be a staggering 200 times more space efficient than on land. This can even contribute to bringing down climate change. In fact, we may only need 1% of the ocean to stay within a 2°C temperature rise."
What are the biggest challenges as a start up?
"Me and my colleagues have already founded two companies that are successful, DeltaSync and Indymo. However, to actually realize a floating city, we think an entirely new type of company is needed. We find the Enterprise 3.0 concept of Ronald van het Hoff inspiring and we are exploring how we can integrate this philosophy into our business model. Building a global knowledge network connected to investors and governments is one of the directions we are looking into."
So what's next?
"We launched Blue21 last September and received much international exposure. We were nominated as one of the 35 most radical innovators of the Netherlands. This year, our goal is to prove the BlueRevolution concept on building and neighborhood level. From there we can scale up and implement our vision globally. We already see that the international attention for these concepts is increasing in coastal cities all over the world, including Manila, Jakarta and New Orleans"
When can we live on a floating city?
"Actually, there are already great places to live on the water. We want to accelerate this process, improve the technology and applicability and want to make sure it has a positive ecological impact. Try to imagine what it would be like: if you want another view, another hometown or new neighbours, you just float your house somewhere else. That would be great right?"