Algae-Powered Structure Redefines ‘Green’ Building

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Arup, SSC Ltd, & Splitterwerk


The world's first algae-powered building


Green Building


A proving ground for the viability of using algae for buildings

Photo Credit: Arup

With all the recent interest in algae as a potential power source, there hasn’t been much tangible to show for all the research that has been put into it – up until now. Through a collaboration between international design firm Arup, Germany-based Strategic Science Consultants, and Austrian architectural firm Splitterwerk, the three have built what they’re calling the world’s first algae-powered building in Hamburg, Germany. Because the tiny photosynthetic organisms only utilize one-quarter of sunlight that they absorb, designers were looking to incorporate the other three-quarters of the energy that goes to waste in to powering the structure – which is known as the BIQ House. Although it was finished in March, the results of this experiment will be on show starting on April 25, as part of the International Building Exhibition.

The cube-shaped, five-story building has fifteen apartment units, but looks unlike any other apartment building. The algae is cultivated in the bioreactor façade on the southwestern and eastern side of the building, producing both heat and biomass, while simultaneously providing shade for residents and giving the building a unique look based on growth patterns. The algae and heat energy are then transferred to the BIQ House’s technical room, where it is fermented and converted into biogas, which will power the apartment.

While one building can make only a small impact, the BIQ House will serve as a proving ground to see if such an idea can be applied more broadly. “Using bio-chemical processes in the façade of a building to create shade and energy is a really innovative concept. It might well become a sustainable solution for energy production in urban areas, so it is great to see it being tested in a real-life scenario”, said Jan Wurm, Arup research leader.

Drew Nitschke is a first-year graduate student at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment, working towards degree in Environmental Economics and Policy. He is especially interested in sustainability and how it relates to business of all sizes. He graduated from UCLA in June 2012 after...
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