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About this Article
Written by: John Scheffler
Written on: September 3rd, 2007
Tags: lifestyle, energy & sustainability, building & architecture
Thumbnail by: UnderseaColony.com
About the Author
In the fall of 2007, John Scheffler was a junior majoring in Industrial Systems Engineering. At the time of writing, he decided he wouldn't drop out of school to pursue a career as an aquanaut.
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Volume IX Issue IV > Underwater Habitats
Last April, science hobbyist Lloyd Godson surfaced after surviving 13 days underwater in a lake near Albury, Australia. Godson's underwater habitat, the BioSUB, was designed to simulate a closed, autonomous environment. Using a Biocoil, a gas-exchange system that utilizes the photosynthetic properties of chlorella algae when supplied with carbon dioxide, light, and water, Godson was able to generate his own oxygen. In addition, he modified a stationary bicycle to operate as a power generator to charge his laptop's battery while he remained submerged. While he still needed to rely on external sources of air and power, Godson was the first person to ever use a plant-based life support system in a closed environment. Currently, Godson is collaborating on a new project that aims to initiate a full-scale underwater colonization by 2012. Godson's work with the Chlorella species gives an exciting outlook on the future of algae in closed environments as a source of oxygen and nutrition.

Introduction

If "Living Your Dream" includes isolating yourself in a metal box at the bottom of a lake, you have a lot in common with science hobbyist Lloyd Godson. This past April, Godson resurfaced after 13 days of living completely submerged at the bottom of a lake near Albury, Australia. The goal of this project was to investigate the feasibility of a closed, self-sustaining environment. Funded by Australian Geographic magazine, he constructed an 8-by-10-foot 'BioSUB', which used a series of components to create a partially autonomous environment. Godson generated his own oxygen using a 'Biocoil,' a gas-exchange system that utilizes the photosynthetic properties of chlorella, a species of single-celled algae [1]. For electricity, he pedaled a stationary bicycle attached to a generator. This device provided the power necessary to run both Godson's laptop battery and the water pump for the 'Biocoil.' This equipment had to be supplemented by external air compressors and solar panels to ensure Godson's survival [2].
While the BioSUB was not completely self-sufficient due to these external aids, the BioSUB project is still seen as a huge accomplishment. Spending 13 days underwater did not break any records, but by using the Biocoil, Godson became the first person to live in a self-sustaining, closed environment [1]. The success of Lloyd Godson's experiment serves as an exemplary feat in the fields of science and engineering, and it offers insight into the future of studies on undersea habitats and autonomous environments.

The Biocoil

Of all the engineering innovations present aboard the BioSUB, the specially-designed Biocoil is the most significant (see Fig. 1). When researching different air supply systems for the BioSUB Project, Godson contacted Cascade High School in Idaho, where the school's advanced biology students had spent over a decade researching the properties of the chlorella algae and constructing Biocoils [3]. Chlorella possesses a high photosynthetic efficiency and only requires carbon dioxide, water, light, and a small amount of minerals to rapidly produce energy [4]. Essentially, a Biocoil is a photosynthetic bioreactor that consists of a series of coiled, plastic tubing filled with water and chlorella. The design of the Biocoil maximizes the amount of light available to the chlorella to assist their rate of photosynthesis [5]. In Godson's case, the carbon dioxide required for photosynthesis was provided by his own respiration, and his urine was recycled to provide the nutrients also required for the process. In this way, Godson and the Biocoil were able to interact in a self-sufficient "human-plant symbiosis" [2].