Photo by David Radin.

This is part of a series giving you an insider’s view of the products coming out of Pittsburgh to change the world.

For almost three years, we’ve been stuck indoors to keep from getting sick. Yet, in our homes, we’re exposed to carbon dioxide and other nasty stuff that can adversely affect our health. So East Liberty-based AlgenAir has come up with a device to help enhance air quality in an environmentally friendly way. They do it with algae.

The device called the Aerium looks a lot like a lava lamp of the 1960s. Unlike lava lamps, though, it’s not for show — it’s to help you rid your room of CO2 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). VOCs are the “nasty stuff” released from our building products that create health problems, particularly in the eyes, nose and throat.

Aerium is filled with algae that use photosynthesis to produce oxygen and reduce the CO2 and VOCs from the air creating an overall healthier living environment. Each Aerium contains the photosynthesis equivalent of 25 house plants in a liquid mix containing algae, nutrients and distilled water. It sells on the website for $225 with a subscription.

To set up an Aerium, you put together the hardware, which is a lot like getting a food processor ready to make a meal. Then you add the nutrients and algae that came with the device and your own distilled water.

Kelsey Abernathy, AlgenAir’s co-founder and CEO, says the whole setup process takes only five minutes. She showed me how the liquid mixture starts out light green with the algae producing bubbles as they work.  

“The liquid grows darker over time,” she says. 

By the time a month or two has passed, you won’t see the bubbles because the liquid will become emerald green. Watch below to see how it works.

That’s the point where you would change it out with more algae and nutrients that you receive in your Aerium subscription ($24.75) and add more distilled water. Abernathy makes it clear that you must use distilled water, because chlorine found in drinking water can kill the algae.

Abernathy came up with the idea to use algae while completing her doctorate in environmental and molecular biology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She then went to Kansas City with AlgenAir’s co-founder, Daniel Fucich, to be part of Techstars before settling in at AlphaLab in Pittsburgh. 

The company manufactures its devices in Grove City.

The team’s aspirations for using algae to purify air go beyond doing it in your home. 

Photo by David Radin.

On Sept. 19, they set up an industrial size unit at Pittsburgh International Airport that Abernathy says, “serves as a pilot to prove it can work with larger indoor spaces.” 

After three months, the Allegheny County Airport Authority will decide whether to make the device permanent.

Aerium, which is stationed near baggage claim, has the photosynthesis capacity of 5,000 plants in its 8-foot tall tank filled with 125 gallons of the algae mixture.  

When the algae has reached the end of its effective photosynthesis life, you can repurpose it by using it in your garden.

Know of a product or service being developed in Pittsburgh or by a Pittsburgh-based company that is cool, is creating growth, or will change the world? Let David know and you may see how it works and why it’s cool here. Contact him via email.

David Radin is CEO of Confirmed ( For decades, he has been leveraging technology and techniques to transform the way his audiences and clients succeed.