What’s That Huge Lava Lamp At Pittsburgh Int’l Airport?

by SharonKurheg

When you fly a lot, you’ll see the same things in most airports. Shopping and dining opportunities. Lounges. A massage place or Minute Suites. Someone trying to sign you up for a credit card (this was my best response to one of those people EVER).

Sometimes though, you’ll see something new or different. Like all the crazy things you can buy in airport vending machines. Or I remember the first time I ever saw a Mamava lactation pod (you know the joke about them, right?) and wondered what the heck it was.

Which brings us to Pittsburgh International Airport.

If you’ve visited PIT in the past year or so, you may have seen what looks like a huge blueish-green lava lamp in its new(ish) xBridge area of Concourse B’s baggage claim.

It’s about 8 feet tall and each one of those illuminated glass tubes is filled with liquid that’s continually bubbling.

The “lava” isn’t lava, of course. It’s not even a lava lamp. It’s algae. 125 gallons of algae, to be exact. It’s supplied by a company called AlgenAir. More on that in a second.

You see, xBridge is a 10,000-square-foot innovation center custom-built to nurture the evolution of the aviation industry and inspire creative solutions to the industry’s multiple challenges. 

“The xBridge is a physical manifestation of the innovative mentality we’ve been cultivating here at PIT for years,” Katherine Karolick, Senior Vice President of Information Technology said last year. “This will be a proving ground for new technology that will benefit the airport, our airline partners and the passengers we collectively serve.” 

Most commonly found in the tech sector, innovation centers bring examples of the product development process together into one space. It allows the maximization of brainpower, resources and the testing of new ideas in real time. In the case of xBridge, the goal was to contain maker space, an open design studio, and mockups of the various parts of an airport, such as concessions and the arrivals area. 

“Innovation centers spark creativity. You can’t plan innovation,” Karolick continued. “You need to create an environment and ecosystem to make it happen.  This space has everything we need to tap into the collective brainpower of our industry and region, design innovative solutions, and accelerate the development of those solutions.”

Enter AlgenAir.

AlgenAir is a Pittsburg-based company that started in 2019. Their products use live spirulina (blue-green algae) to remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen as efficiently as houseplants (how many houseplants would depend on how big your AlgenAir system is. For home systems, they say it’s as good as 25 houseplants. The one at PIT would be like having 5,000 plants inside the airport).

Anyway, so the big lava lamp at PIT is a living, breathing air purifier. Using the natural power of algae, the tubes relieve the health effects of poor indoor air quality (think “sick building syndrome”)  by removing carbon pollution and producing clean oxygen.

The liquid starts out with young algae, which make the tubes very light greenish-blue. But as the algae age, the liquid gets darker and darker. Once the algae has gone through its paces and need to be replaced (the whole process takes about 45 days), the algae-rich water is disposed of by watering the plants at the airport – the algae makes it a great fertilizer (and the plants do their own bit to decrease carbon dioxide). And then they start the process all over again.

And that’s why there’s a big lava lamp at PIT. 😉

By the way, here’s how they built it:

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