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Leaf-shaped wall tiles use algae to purify wastewater

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A living wastewater treatment solution

Photo: University College London

Solving India’s wastewater problem is an endeavor of government-wide proportions. But a new project from designers and biomedical engineers at University College London show how smaller, more creative solutions can help the cause, too.

Together, they came up with a leaf-shaped tile called Indus that filters water by capturing heavy metals in an algae-infused hydrogel. The goal is to give artisans a low-cost, low-tech way to build a viable wastewater system.

The clay tile is designed with grooves and coated with the jelly-like substance. Instead of depositing wastewater from textile dying and jewelry-making into sand pits or rivers, wastewater tanks would funnel the water onto a wall of these tiles. As the water passes over the tiles, heavy metals get caught in the algae membrane, creating cleaner water for reuse.

Rendering of tiled wall Image: University College London

Though the tiles do work (Fast Company reports that testing showed a 10-fold reduction of cadmium in water), they’re still in their production infancy. Eventually, the team wants to tailor the tiles with specific forms of algae to trap different kinds of metals. For now, though, you can check out the tiles and the research at Brooklyn design hub A/D/O, where Indus is part of its “Water Futures” exhibition.