This article is adapted from AQ’s print issue on piracy in Latin America. To see the rest of our list, click here. | Leer en español
The eight-foot-tall metal sculpture on Atlixcáyotl Avenue in Puebla, Mexico, isn’t just for decoration — though its space-age green glow does give the area a futuristic flair. Rather, this “man-made tree” sucking up CO2 is a microalgae-based air purifier, the creation of 27-year-old Mexican inventor Carlos Monroy.
“I am a biologist who specializes in algae, and after college I started to look at my work from a different perspective, that of a business developing product to solve environmental problems,” Monroy told AQ. His invention, called BioUrban, uses photosynthesis from millions of microalgae to turn CO2 into oxygen. The structure in Puebla does the equivalent work of hundreds of trees.
BioUrban is one of five patents Monroy has registered in his career as an inventor and innovator; his first came at age 23. His first idea was a truck exhaust pipe using microalgae to turn emissions into hydrogen; that idea developed into the larger city air purifier.
After university, Monroy joined an innovation lab, where he met a group of recent graduates from other disciplines, and together they created their startup, BiomiTech. The company’s microalgae-based prototype was the audience winner in a Latin American startup competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015. “The recognition at MIT led to publicity and also to investors seeking out our company,” said Monroy.
Having patents for his inventions also helped, giving backers assurances. “If you have an idea, that can be seen as an invention, (but) the piece of paper is necessary. It is harder to get an investment without it.”
The innovation lab helped with the business side, introducing Monroy and his colleagues to the Mexican patent office and a specialized company that helped them manage the domestic and international patents. “We took our patent in Switzerland, to make it international. Now we can sell anywhere in the world.”
And Monroy’s glowing metal tree is already spreading abroad, with pilot units shipped to England and Colombia.
Seems like Puebla was only the start.