Why you should care
Because even art can do double duty.
Art is everywhere. Not in a pretentious or philosophical sense; it’s just that art is everywhere — on office walls, hanging over your table at Applebee’s, in dorm rooms and classrooms. And so much of it is completely useless. Like those paintings of ships at your great-aunt Velma’s, the poster saying “And now … gin” on the wall of your first apartment, James Dean’s likeness adorning apartment walls in every show aimed at young hipsters.
We just like having stuff on the walls. So why not have stuff that’s demonstrably making the space better, and not just in an aesthetic sense? That’s where Artveoli comes in.
The brainchild of scientist-inventors Alina Adams and Anastasia Neddersen, Artveoli is a startup that uses large works of wall art — a blowup of your dog, a re-creation of a classic piece, a new abstract piece — to help clean the air. How? By acting as a cover for photosynthetic algae cells that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, much the way plants do.
The algae inside do die but are replaced, like printer ink cartridges, a few times a year.
Adams, who got her degree in applied physics in her home country of Ukraine, moved to the U.S. with her family and began working on microfluidics at Stanford, which is where she met Neddersen. The two realized microfluidic technology was a good fit for purifying air inside, but that it required a high surface-to-volume ratio. “We have a lot of surface inside: We have walls, we have ceiling, we have floors,” Adams explains. “We already have decor. Why can’t it be more functional?”
For Adams and Neddersen, the art isn’t really the point — it’s dispelling the carbon dioxide that everyone inside is breathing out all the time, and without needing to import small jungles into every indoor space. They’ve even had some partners interested in putting flat-screen TVs over the technology. But Adams says it was key to not store the tech in “ugly boxes” and instead to find something that fits into your average pleasant office or residential space. The algae inside do die but are replaced, like printer ink cartridges, a few times a year.
Typical air-filtration systems largely filter air in from outside, which is also polluted, Adams explains. While existing technology focuses on particulate matter — filtering out toxic particles in the air — this is different: Artveoli changes the composition of the actual air, she says, which has sometimes made it a hard sell to investors who aren’t comfortable with new technology.
Still, the company is growing — it’s now at six employees and five interns — and last year won the 2017 Smogathon, a competition in Krakow to fight the city’s pollution problem. That win delivered $25,000 to the company, along with a $75,000 contract to use the tech to beautify the city, which Adams says will likely go toward purifying air in public schools.
While Artveoli has manufactured some units, currently priced at about $2,500 per system, they’re mostly for testing. The first batch of product is set to ship to customers late this fall, and Adams says they’re hoping to bring the price down closer to $400 in the future, to make it competitive in the air-filtration market — if not the art market.