Vital Nature: Algae Power!

The “bioreactor façade” of the BIQ building of Hamburg, Germany is a crusader of its era. A holistic energy course, the building is suited with panels—which are actually thin tanks filled with algae from the nearby Elbe River— that are affixed as a type of second skin on the sides of a 15 unit apartment.

The panels act as home to the photosynthesizing microalgae and thermal armor to the building. The “bio skin,” dubbed by IBA Hamburg, is utilized to provide shade and control the entrance of solar light into the building. The innovative concept employs futuristic engineering and stylist design, and may be highly succwessful later on in the urban scene.

A  major contributor to the overall cost of construction and development, the equivalent of about $6.51 million, was funded by Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) as a part of the ongoing International Building Exhibition 2013. That cost would theoretically equate to $434 thousand per unit for the external “hardware”,which implies a seemingly practical future for the algae-wall industry.

The algae are submerged in a water solution where it flourishes and provides nutrients and carbon dioxide. Each of the algae filled louvered tanks were mounted to the building’s scaffolding, which allows the tanks to turn towards the sun. As the algae multiply in the heat of the sun, it subsequently provides shade to residents and assists in cooling the indoor atmosphere.

The excess heat that gathers in the water tank is then transferred to saline solution-filled tanks underneath the building, where it is stored for future usage.The algae are produced on a regular cycle that allows them to be harvested.

The excess pulp is then unit is taken to a processing facility within the technical room of the BIQ. The mass is converted into a biogas that can be combusted to provide heat in the winder.

Algae are well suited for this process, because they produce useful oils for burning and as much as five times the amount of biomass per hectare as terrestrial plants.Theoretically, these solar thermal and geothermal methods allow the building to be heated and cooled without the use of fossil fuels.

The only blatant drawback of algae power is the fact that it does not grow well, or at all, during the winter months. Algae require sunlight to function, and its photosynthetic process is what keeps the building “alive.” Interestingly, the company mentioned that getting rid of the water via the sewer would be environmentally sound. Methods of disposal and renewal of algae blooms are still in the developmental stages, but the future is looking bright. And green.