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Biophotovoltaics for nature and people

Award category
Reconnecting with nature
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NEW EUROPEAN BAUHAUS RISING STARS: concepts or ideas submitted by young talents (aged 30 or less)
Project title
Biophotovoltaics for nature and people
Full concept/idea title
Provide ecosystem services through the implementation of Biophotovoltaics systems with the community

Biophotovoltaics (BPV) is a source of renewable energy that leverages plants’ natural life cycles to generate electricity. Biophotovoltaics for nature and people aims to develop BPV by sharing knowledge about this new technology, and with its innovative “green areas” prototype, that integrates BPV. This infrastructure uses mostly soil, plants, water and electric compounds. It is designed for urban environments that it can help rehabilitate, by creating new activity and increasing local biodiversity, while producing energy.

What is the geographical scope of your concept/idea?
El Masnou
Does your concept/idea address mainly urban or rural issues?
It addresses urban-rural linkages
Does your concept/idea refer to a physical transformation of the built environment or other types of transformations?
It refers to other types of transformations ('soft investment')
Has your concept/idea benefited from EU programmes and/or funds?
Has your concept/idea won an EU prize?
How did you hear about the New European Bauhaus Prizes ?
Social media
On whose behalf are you submitting the application?
As an individual
Please provide a summary of your concept/ idea

If we protect, promote and study natural ecosystems, not only will we be able to sustain the ecosystem services, but also we will discover new ways to make up the most out of them. To do this, a shift in mindset is needed, so that people move from taking nature as a given to exploit to consider it a gift, a personal belonging that needs to be taken care of to maximize its benefits in a responsible way.

This project aims to drive these two ideas forward, by developing a public green infrastructure that allows to take full advantage of nature to provide high value to our cities, not only by transforming a decaying urban are into an aesthetical, healthy and biodiverse environment for citizens to enjoy, but particularly by implementing an innovative technology – biophotovoltaics – that allows to obtain energy from plant normal functioning. In order to promote the mentioned change in people’s mindset, we will follow a pedagogic and collaborative construction approach that will engage local volunteers from different backgrounds to immerse them in nature and teach them basic concepts of environmental health, plant biology, sustainability, energy production, and others. This approach will allow us to share natural scientific knowledge to society, communicate the value and potential of natural ecosystems and the importance of protecting nature, and, moreover, create an inclusive opportunity for people from different generations and social backgrounds to interact, share experiences and learn from each other, building local community and enhancing the feelings of belonging, social purpose and connectedness.

The technology that will be leveraged to obtain energy from plants is called biophotovoltaics (BPV) and is an emerging and promising source of clean energy. At the start of this project, it was estimated that BPV systems would be able to generate up to 3.2 W m-2of planting area under Western European conditions (Helder, 2012).

Please indicate the main themes of your concept/idea with 5 key words
Ecosystem services
Transferring knowledge
Infrastructure community
Clean energy
Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of environmental sustainability (including circularity) and how these would be met.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context

1) Promote the development and implementation of biophotovoltaics into urban areas as a way towards cleaner and more sustainable cities, via the creation of new multifunctional ecosystems capable of reducing the environmental impact generated by them. Decaying urban areas will be transformed in new green areas, making the life in our cities healthier while reducing their environmental impact by producing clean energy to satisfy their energy demands

2) Promote the use of natural and recyclable materials whose sourcing generates a minimum impact to the environment. Approximately, 95% of the materials needed to carry out this project are natural such as soil, plants and water.

3) Promote collaborative and pedagogic models where participants acquire useful notions about natural processes and biophotovoltaics and the key role nature plays in modern life. The green infrastructure will be built with the collaboration of volunteers from different background and age creating opportunities for intergenerational dialogue, sharing perspectives and learning from each other. ‘Learning by doing’ results in better understanding of concepts and create a sense of authorship towards the results, what results in empowerment of the community and willingness to take care of the work and, in extension, of nature

4) Ensure access to affordable, secure, sustainable and modern energy for all (Sustainable Development Goal No. 7, established by the United Nations in 2015). Biophotovoltaics (BPV) is a source of clean energy that leverages photosynthesis and the metabolic activity of heterotrophic microorganisms existing in the plant rhizosphere to generate electrical energy. 13% of the world's population still does not have access to modern electricity services. The further research and development of this technology and its adaptation to different local climates and biodiversity would help to ensure all have access to energy.

Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of aesthetics and quality of experience beyond functionality and how these would be met.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context

Aesthetics can be found in nature through its thousands of harmonious, balanced and sustainable shapes. To bring the aesthetics for nature to our cities, we must choose native plant species for our green infrastructures, species that are the most appropriate for our local environment. These native plants will look healthy along the year, changing their look depending on the seasons and attracting local birds and insects to increase the biodiversity of the area. This would not only ensure a beautiful and natural area but also ensure that the resources needed for maintenance (personnel, materials, water…) are the minimum.

The green infrastructure, with its smart design and integrated biophotovoltaics, will autonomously produce and supply electricity to the urban furniture that surrounds it, such as low voltage demands as urban lighting, public WIFI, etc.

The infrastructure will be designed following the concept of biophilia: love for nature and other living beings. Biophilic design tries to emulate nature in the buildings we spend our time in, incorporating different elements of nature both indoor and outdoor spaces with the aim of improving people's health and well-being.

The location of the green infrastructure will be chosen in a way that its construction serves to regenerate a decaying urban area, transforming it into a powerful and beautiful communal area that citizens can enjoy and that helps increasing and protecting the local biodiversity. Additionally, the green infrastructure will be designed to make the most of the existing space and to be perfectly integrated into the surrounding urbanism, to avoid major adaptation works.

Finally, we believe that creating such a new green environment able to produce clean energy will have a domino effect and lead to the construction of more and more green functional areas: such an smart park will catch the interest of public institutions and obtain citizen advocacy.

Please give information about the key objectives of your concept/idea in terms of inclusion (equal opportunities, public participation, citizen engagement, co-design, universal design, accessibility, affordability, etc.) and how these would be met.
Please highlight how the concept/idea can be exemplary in this context

Biophotovoltaics leverages the subproducts of the symbiosis existing between plants and bacteria. This project aims to extrapolate this concept of symbiosis to humans, leveraging collaboration of different volunteer profiles (e.g. families, students from local schools, elderly, people at risk of social exclusion) to build not only a green infrastructure but also a better community where everyone feels connected and appreciated and can share its knowledge and know-how.

The collaborative construction and maintenance process will follow a 4-step cycle approach, where volunteers will learn about different natural processes and concepts:

  1. Soil preparation – concepts addressed: recycling, organic matter, carbon cycle, composting, circularity
  2. Plant preparation – concepts addressed: photosynthesis, microorganisms and bacteria, habitat and ecosystems, plant propagation and multiplication
  3. Participatory construction – concepts addressed: biophotovoltaics, energy and cities, biodiversity and autochthonous species, ecosystem services
  4. Monitoring, evaluation and redesign – concepts addressed: natural and recycled materials, plant care, climatology

The participants must complete all the stages in order to learn the concepts mentioned and reach a good understanding of how biophotovoltaics work and are. This knowledge will increase the interest in nature and natural processes of the volunteers but also capacitate them to create biophotovoltaic systems by themselves. Additionally, the methodology can be adapted to and replicated in any part of the world, resulting in empowered populations and promoting self-access to electricity and energy freedom.

Additionally, the implementation of this technology would generate clean and inexpensive energy that would be used to power the city’s electric urban furniture.

The participation of public administration and city councils will be key to find an appropriate location and call out for participants adequately.

Please explain how these three dimensions would be combined in your concept/idea.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary

Beatiful and sustainable

We will regenerate a decaying urban area to give it back to the citizens by transforming it into a green area that is not only beautiful but also functional, been able to generate clean energy for the city. We will create an ecosystem that safeguards local biodiversity through the utilization of autochthonous plant species and the generation of a new habitat for other animal, fungal and bacterial species, that is aesthetically appealing and dynamic, changing its aspect through the seasons.

The materials used to build the green infrastructure will be 95% repurposed, recyclable, and sustainable, since the major ones are soil, plants, water and electric compounds. Also, at the end of life of the infrastructure, it will be possible to reuse all materials, closing the circular production process.

Additionally, the infrastructure will generate enough energy to power urban elements, an energy that is cleaner and more inexpensive than conventional ones, improving the sustainability of the city and reducing the environmental and economic impact that urban infrastructures generate.

Inclusive place

The implementation of the technology and the construction of the green infrastructure will provide an opportunity to any kind of public to work together to return an occupied space to nature, creating a healthier ecosystem for humans and a new space for citizens to enjoy and observe the nature; all while promoting learning, dialogue, and belonging for a better community.


Please highlight the innovative character of the concept/idea as compared to mainstream practices in the field of the concept/idea.

When more energy is required to set up a technology than the energy it produces, the energy balance is negative and the technology cannot be considered renewable.

Renewable energy sources are sometimes questioned due to their environmental performance, even though they are renewable. Solar panels and wind turbines, for example, contain minor and rare earth metals respectively for their construction, whose mining results in environmental pollution. On the other hand, hydropower is generally considered environmental friendly based but it implies the loss of natural areas.

In contrast to this, most of the material used in biophotovoltaics are natural, recyclable and from a nearby origin, since it depends on bacterial and plant activity. Anyone after the training will be able to design and materialize their ideas, prototypes, and applications. It is clear that this renewable energy production way does not generate any landscape impact (just the opposite) and does not require exploiting the planet to obtain the necessary components.

Moreover, the implementation cost is minimal compared to other technologies on the market and it is intended to be implemented in degraded or unused spaces simply by adapting them to the system, maximizing its functionality as well as its aesthetic and giving it back to the citizens.

While this new technology is not as efficient as others in terms of production and cannot fully substitute conventional power sources, it can meet energy demands of individuals or be used to power specific utilities at public level. Implementing this infrastructure via citizen participation is key to bring this knowledge to citizens and drive forward research, analysis and discussion to keep optimizing the technology for higher efficiency.

Please detail the general plans that you have for the further development, promotion and/or implementation of your concept/idea.

First of all, we will continue improving the current basic prototype we developed, paying special attention to the potential limitations that may arise while implementing the technology, to be able to anticipate, fine tune the prototype and identify other mitigation actions.

Secondly, it will be key to engage with public and private entities, NGOs and social associations to target the appropriate population segments to call out for volunteers in the most effective way, establish the final work methodology, identify adequate spaces to perform the different activities and decide what urban area could benefit the most of the construction of the green area (e.g. decaying areas, abandoned lots, inappropriately-maintained parks and flowerbeds). 

Finally, our internal organizational structure must be defined and established to better be able to share our knowledge and carry out our projects to other regions all around the world.

Imagine that your idea/concept is awarded in the New European Bauhaus Prizes 2022. What kind of initiatives would you take throughout the following year (June 2022- June 2023)

Set up a biotechnology company and acquire a technology center to conduct research, improve the technology and develop new applications to use biophotovoltaics to help reduce the impact of society in the environment.

Design and carry out projects like the present one that allow to implement biophotovoltaics and communicate the knowledge to society.

Engage with entities from all over the world and from different nature (e.g. public, private NGOs, schools, citizen associations) who may be interested in the project and want to promote energy freedom, reduce the number of people that have no access to electricity and preserve the environment.

By ticking this box, you declare that you are not in in one or more of the exclusion situations foreseen under Article 136 of the Financial Regulation.
By ticking this box, you declare that all the information provided in this form is factually correct, that you assume sole liability in the event of a claim relating to the activities carried out in the framework of the contest, that the proposed concept/idea has not been proposed for the New European Bauhaus Prizes 2022 in any other category or strand and that it has not been subject to any type of investigation, which could lead to a financial correction because of irregularities or fraud.
By submitting your application, you guarantee that you are the author or have the rights to proceed with the application and to authorise the use of the project, concept, idea, and that you have obtained any necessary consents, licenses or assignments from third parties and included copyright notices when necessary.
By submitting your application, you understand that all the applications that meet the eligibility requirements will be shared for the purposes of the selection processes, and notably published on the secured platform and for the purposes of the promotion of these on the New European Bauhaus website and/or other European Commission communication channels. In this sense, the applications would be widely available. Applicants should ensure that they present their ideas, concepts, projects, in such a way that they could be shared without giving rise to intellectual property related concerns. If your submission is selected as one of the finalists, it will additionally be shared for the purpose of the public vote that will take place. The European Union is granted a licence to use and share your application with the general public and the official external experts for the purposes of the selection process, including the voting. The European Union has the right to use the images and visual materials and the description provided in the application for communication purposes related to the contest and beyond. Rights granted comprise the right to store, reproduce, display, publish and communicate or distribute copies in electronic or digital format, including, but not only, through the internet. Unless you have disclosed your name, the European Commission has no obligation to share your name when using or disseminating your contribution to the public. The European Union cannot be held responsible in case any submitted idea, project, concept is found to infringe third parties rights. The European Union shall be neither responsible for the use that third parties may do of the applications or related content.


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