Smart Idea for Clean Air and Green Cities

Magdeburg start-up Moosaik develops double-sided living walls

The Magdeburg start-up Moosaik aims to promote effective, sustainable city development with its double-sided living walls and to raise awareness of the issue of climate protection and sustainable choices. That’s why the two founders, Maren Huhle and Marco Zierau, have developed a double-sided living plant wall featuring moss that filters out pollutants and improves air quality. They were awarded first place in Saxony-Anhalt’s BESTFORM /// MEHR /// WERT /// AWARD for creative ideas in recognition of their work earlier this year. They are now getting underway with their “Moss Mission.”

Many city centers have very poor air quality, with high levels of pollution but not very many green spaces. How can the microclimate in urban areas be improved when everything is covered with concrete and parks and green spaces are few and far between? Scientists and city planners are searching for answers, but Magdeburg start-up Moosaik has already come up with its own solution that draws on the superpowers of the oldest living terrestrial plant on earth: moss. After 400 years of evolution, moss has developed some incredible characteristics. It can survive against the odds and filter out pollutants while taking its nutrients from the air. Moosaik is not alone in its belief that this often overlooked forest plant is a biological solution to air pollution. As explained on Moosaik’s website, other proponents include the German botanist Jan-Peter Frahm, who studied the effects and characteristics of moss up until his death in 2014. He discovered that the plant can remove a significant amount of particulate matter and other pollutants from the air. According to Frahm, the binding capacity of moss mats proved to be “extremely efficient” during tests in his laboratory. Moss mats have been used as filters in real-life applications for several years.

An active biofilter: moss can efficiently absorb pollutants such as particulate matter

Equipped with this knowledge, the two founders started thinking about ecological city planning for the future. Huhle, a communications expert and economist, and her co-founder Zierau, a mechanical engineer, have been developing and refining their living wall design since 2018. “In an era of urbanization, we want to promote sustainable city development through vertical gardening,” says Huhle. The Moosaik team set about developing a living plant wall made of moss at the Faculty of Process and Systems Engineering at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg (OVGU) with help from the Transfer and Entrepreneur Centre (TUGZ). “Moss is actually ideally suited to absorbing pollutants from the air,” explains Huhle. As an active biofilter, it can efficiently absorb substances such as particulate matter, she goes on to say. The wall system that holds the moss features double-sided panels that can be fixed to exterior walls. Moss grows on one side, filtering pollutants and providing soundproofing as an added bonus. The other side can be fitted with anything from climbing plants to advertising and art work. The individual wall panels are assembled together like a mosaic.

A building on Magdeburg university campus is a fine example of the finished product. Together with volunteers, the Moosaik team worked for many hours to attach its prototype to a faculty building earlier in spring. At approximately six meters high and five meters wide, the steel construction stands about 30 centimeters from the wall and has just enough space for 16 Moosaik panels. The green carpet of moss grows on the inner side and acts as an eco-vacuum cleaner that sucks up pollutants. The unique characteristics of the installation are clear to see: the moss is not a dry, lifeless substance, but a living and thriving one. “The shady gap between the wall and the moss provides excellent ventilation and a sufficient water supply via a rainwater cistern,” explains Zierau. The cistern is controlled via sensors that regulate the supply as needed.

Optimal conditions in Saxony-Anhalt The front of the moss wall features many types of ground cover plants in gravelly soil and an insect hotel. According to Huhle, it has already caused quite a stir on campus, and the Moosaik team are often asked about it. There is a great deal of interest in their clever idea, particularly since Moosaik won first prize in the BESTFORM state competition for creative designs in April 2021. The jury praised the “combination of nature and technology” and described the vertical gardening construction as a “natural alternative to air purification that is very attractive to boot.” The young entrepreneurs invested their prize money straight into their start-up to enable them to keep optimizing their design together with their shareholders. “The competition has really raised our profile,” says Huhle. “We have received an incredible number of inquiries from the media and potential customers.” Buoyed up by this success, the pair want to get the ball rolling in the foreseeable future. They want to grow their start-up in Saxony-Anhalt, where the company has its roots. “We have enjoyed ideal conditions and excellent support here right from the start: so many doors were open to us,” says Zierau, who, like his business partner, studied at the university in Magdeburg.

Working on a successful prototype test phase

The start-up is currently being funded and assisted by the Investment Bank of Saxony-Anhalt and an investor. Their next aim is one that they have been working on for some time. According to Huhle, they want to run a successful prototype test phase so their product can go into series production and be released on the market in 2022 as an efficient way of turning our cities green. They do not intend to set up their own production site. “We see ourselves more as service providers,” says Huhle. They were initially marketing their green panels, which are scalable and can be combined in lots of different ways to create a custom outdoor living wall, to industrial firms and city authorities. However, after winning the BESTFORM award it soon become clear that private customers are also very interested in their product. Huhle believes that only time will tell where their company journey will take them. Mass production is “not really their cup of tea,” she says. “We ultimately want sustainability to be the means as well as the end goal.” But one thing is certain for the young entrepreneurs – their future is green.

Author: Manuela Bock/IMG Saxony-Anhalt