Great Lakes Permaculture

House Powered by Algae

Germany has many technological advances when it comes to energy efficiency, net zero housing, and energy production systems, but a housing project powered by algae has to be one of the most unusual ideas that have come from them in some time. Plant based exterior panels have been used for some time to reduce heating costs, improve human comfort and air quality. But algae based exterior panels are different; they can generate electricity, and capture solar thermal energy, thus providing two energy sources for the building. The BIQ house as it is referred to in Hamburg Germany has just been completed and is open to the public.

The concept and ideas for the BIQ house originated with the architects and engineers from HOK/Vanderweil when they showcased their creativity and sustainable design expertise with a winning net zero building retrofit design in Metropolis magazine’s Next Generation Design Competition 2011. The design team’s breakthrough idea uses energy-producing micro algae to help power the building. Inspiration for this building retrofit came from nature. The BIQ house has an exterior facade designed so that algae contained in so-called bio-reactor panels grow faster in bright sunlight to provide more internal shading. An independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists from Arup, Arup developed the bio-reactor concept in cooperation with SSC Strategic Science Consult of Germany, and the shading louvers are being fabricated in Germany by Colt International.

The facade panels are designed to nurture algae growth, with water, nutrients, and carbon dioxide pumping inside each of the building’s 129 “bio reactors.” As the sun shines, the algae photosynthesizes and grows until there’s enough biomass for the structure’s mechanics to convert the residue into energy. The panels also provide internal shade and temperature regulation in the warm seasons. For the sunnier it is, the more algae grows, which in turn makes the panels darker and the interior temperature cooler, kind of like massive, algae-driven transition lens. Though Jan Wurm, a research leader at Arup, said in a press release that the algae system could very well “become a sustainable solution for energy production in urban areas,” no one has stated how well the building will perform in winter (algae doesn’t grow without light) or how much it might cost for such a system to be made for a residential market. But for now I still give it 10 out of 10 on the cool design scale, so think green, go green, live green.

With personal and professional regards – Vince

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