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How IoT with bio-mimicry reduces indoor air pollution

May 17, 20163 mins
Amazon Web ServicesInternet of Things

Biome combines organic approaches with IoT to improve air quality in office buildings, hospitals and condos

You may be better off not inhaling—especially when you consider all the airborne pollutants indoors.

The EPA estimates that there are over 65,000 chemicals releasing pollutants into the air that are often too small for regular air filters to catch. Mold, flame retardants on carpets, and vapors from synthetic materials are just some of the sources of this type of pollution. For people with breathing difficulties, children, and the elderly, the impact is especially hazardous.

Biome‘s solution is based on bio-mimicry: “innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul. The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers.” 

Nature solves the toughest problems. Why not apply some of those time-tested and organic approaches to solve man-made problems such as air pollution as well? The microbes found on plants’ roots naturally absorb airborne substances and supply them as nutrients for the plant to grow. Biome uses this microbe behavior, coupled with IoT sensors, to monitor airborne pollution and use that data to regulate the airflow over the microbes. 


Converting the concept to a commercial solution took Biome some iterations. Just a few of the design challenges included:

  • How could the airflow over roots be increased to remove the most pollutants?
  • How could the operations be modified based on the volume of the room(s)?
  • How could maintenance be simplified with living plants in the unit?
  • How would water, light, and nutrients be delivered to the plants?
  • How should the unit be designed to simplify installation?
  • How could the esthetics and design appeal of the unit be enhanced?

The design process extended over several months to where the unit is now.

Biome product evolution

Biome’s solution consists of a wall-mounted unit that has a series of vertical pipes. Small pods with activated carbon in which small plants are growing are inserted into the pipes. At the top of each pipe is a small fan that forces air over the plants’ roots. Special sensors are mounted above the Biome unit to measure the concentration of air pollutants, temperature, and humidity. This data, along with the volume of air to be purified, is used to operate the fans and control their speed. Lighting above the unit and a water reservoir at the bottom help minimize the maintenance required.

A single Biome system daily purifies over 500,000 liters of air, which corresponds to what 50 people breathe. Biome complements existing air purification systems, as it catches the pollutants that slip through regular air filters and uses them as nutrients for the plants. Perhaps the first bio-mimicry based IoT system!

Biome schematic

As more Biome units are deployed, sensor data will be fed into a central console that can analyze changes in air quality and the level of pollutants within the building. Combining this intelligence with occupancy levels and other relevant parameters will help increase the health of the building’s occupants. Office buildings, condos, conference halls, hospitals and hospice centers are some of the target markets for Biome.

So, when you’re in a building and see a small indoor hanging wall, and the air smells cleaner, check to see if it’s Biome at work. And then inhale deeply!


Deepak Puri is an IoT expert and the cofounder of DemLabs, a SF-based non-profit hub for technology innovation in support of democracy. Formerly he held executive positions at Oracle, Netscape and VMware.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Deepak Puri and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications Inc. or its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.