How micro-algae can help create green buildings

Posted by Paul Compton on 20/09/12 09:56

Green housesHow long will it be until buildings consume no energy? Judging by a current project in Germany, it won’t be long at all. As part of the development of the BIQ House for the International Building Exhibition (IBA) in Hamburg, micro-algae are being used to create a so-called bio-adaptive facade. Such a system will provide both solar shading and generate renewable energy using a novel application of an established technology.  

How does the technology work?

The bio-adaptive facade comprises bio-reactors filled with live micro-algae. When the sun shines more strongly, the algae grow at a faster rate, which in turn provides more shading for the building. Thus photosynthesis enables the facade to react dynamically to changes in solar intensity.

How do the micro-algae generate electricity?

In addition to providing solar shading, the bio-adaptive facade generates electricity. The micro- algae use the energy from the sun to produce biomass, which can be harvested and converted into energy.

Jan Wurm, Europe Research Leader at Arup, says "As well as generating renewable energy and providing shading to keep the inside of the building cooler on sunny days, this system also creates an interesting appearance that many architects and building owners will like. It is a valuable method for generating renewable energy, whilst providing effective solar shading which itself keeps cooling loads down". 

How has the technology been developed?

The bio-reactors are being fabricated by Colt, based on bio-reactor technology developed by SSC Strategic Science Consult. Arup is providing concept design, coordination and engineering. The BIQ House project is due to be completed in March 2013. Once it is ready, it offers up a fantastic opportunity to assess the potential of micro-algae in future development. 

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[Image credit: Arup]

Paul ComptonPaul is a Technical Director for Colt, experienced in smoke control, HVAC, solar shading and louvre systems.

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Topics: Energy saving, sustainability, Solar Shading