Recent developments and investments in synthetic biology, biotechnology, and genetics have made the design and manufacture of biologically based systems at scale more precise than ever. Algae powered homes bio-synthetic materials and green energy underpin our hopes to a sustainable everyday in the future.

Many steps have been taken to improve the carbon footprint of the aviation industry, by improving fuel efficiency of aircraft, using and investing in new biofuel mixtures and environment friendly packaging etc. However aviation still remains a challenging space for green innovation and bigger strides must be taken to tackle its carbon footprint. We imagine aviation to be the final frontier, a proving ground of sorts, for the applications of green technology.

Inspired by the hopes and growth of one industry and the challenges in the other we imagined the new field of Bioavionics that focuses on the integration of biological systems with electromechanical ones in aircraft to hint at how it will impact our future experience of flight. This new industry will challenge the way we experience flight, offering sustainable solutions for the air we breathe on board, the energy we consume and even the water we drink

Aerium is the first glimpse of the potential of this industry. It imagines multi-layered cabin structure that focuses on three systems: hydration, energy generation, and oxygenation.

The first is a biopolymer coating on Aerium’s exterior microstructure. Inspired by the Namibian desert beetle, this responsive material harvests moisture and condensation from the clouds. It guides water towards the rear of the plane and is collected for onboard clean water and grey water use.

The second layer is a computationally generated skeletal structure that minimises weight whilst maximising strength, saving fuel for each flight.

Embedded in this generative structure is a synthetic chloroplast layer, extracted from algae and suspended on graphene matrices. Like plants, the organelles convert sunlight and CO2 expired by passengers to generate clean air and electricity through the process of photosynthesis. 

Together, these layers are used to power various onboard needs like powering lighting and entertainment and air conditioning and reducing the stress on the primary fuel source, 

Currently, planes are inactive when parked at airports. With this new performative skin, we imagine a future where planes can become fuel cells both in air and on land, supplying excess clean water and energy for airports.

Aerium is a speculative design project by Hanson Cheng, Deepak Mallya, Julian Ellis-Brown & Mi Zhou. The project is a collaboration between the Royal College of Art and British Airways to celebrate the airline’s centenary. The concept evolved from conversations and experiments with experts from Airbus, Boeing, Imperial College Aerospace, Nasa Jet Propultion Labs, Imperial Bioengineering and the Dyson School of Design Engineering.

Prototypes and experiments