First algae powered building goes up in Hamburg

April 12, 2013 by Bob Yirka, report

( —A 15-unit apartment building has been constructed in the German city of Hamburg that has 129 algae filled louvered tanks hanging over the exterior of the south-east and south-west sides of the building—making it the first in the world to be powered exclusively by algae. Designed by Arup, SSC Strategic Science Consultants and Splitterwerk Architects, and named the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House, the building demonstrates the ability to use algae as a way to heat and cool large buildings.

To make use of the algae, which the team retrieved from the nearby , it was put into large thin rectangular clear cases. Inside, the algae live in a water solution and are provided nutrients and carbon dioxide by an automated system. Each tank was then affixed to the outside walls of the building onto scaffolding that allows for turning the tanks towards the sun—similar to technology used for .

As the algae grows—mostly in the summer—it provides more shade for the building, helping to keep it cool (and serves as a sound buffer as well). Excess heat that builds up in the water in the tanks is transferred to tanks underneath the building for use later. When the amount of in the tanks reach a certain point, some is harvested and taken to a processing facility inside the building. There the biomass is converted to biogas which can be burned to provide heat in the winter. Thus, the building makes use of both solar thermal and allowing it to be heated and cooled without using any fossil fuels.

The design and construction of the BIQ has taken three years and has cost approximately €5 million, all funded by Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) as part of the ongoing International Building Exhibition – 2013. The BIQ House is one of 16 projects undertaken by the group, with the goal of proving that cost effective ways of making bio-friendly buildings are available today. To highlight the building, the team has painted its exterior green and has added a giant cartoon-like bubble on one side with the word "Photosynthesis?" in it.

The building is to serve as a test case and will be studied by various architects and engineers from around the world to determine if the design is feasible and if so, to perhaps serve as a model when erecting buildings in other cities.

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2.2 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2013
Talk about going green!

This definitely makes me green with envy.
1 / 5 (11) Apr 12, 2013
I will be only impressed when big hills & Mountains are Wrapped much unenvironmental it may least 20% to start with. Roofs over Rivers....again starting with 5-10% Wrapping....supported on Poles. As long as they do not tear up or get blown away....except hurricane times....but they can all be collected and burned for energy prior to that happening. We have all kinds of Poles in neighbor hoods...let the fish & birds also have their share.
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 12, 2013
its going to be funny.. really funny when an algea disease hits the tanks and the building turns brown --- and then the after effect of people realizing that walking into a brown building that is literally dead algae is REALLY depressing.
1.8 / 5 (16) Apr 12, 2013
making it the first in the world to be powered exclusively by algae.

I gotta call BS on that! Does anyone believe that building is powered exclusively by algae? ..and processing the algae somehow counts as geothermal energy?
2.5 / 5 (13) Apr 12, 2013
Average yearly solar irradiance at Bremen Germany is approx. 950 kW hrs./M^2 or 2.6kW hrs/day. Assuming the high end of photosynthetic efficiency of 6%, that is .156kWhr/M^2. Now that building facade appears to be at most 200M^2 so an average daily energy production by the algae would be 31kW hrs or a 24 hr average power rate of 1.3 kW. Even assuming a 100% efficiency in conversion to biogas, this is a joke. Happy belated April Fool's!
3.3 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2013
If people read the article it states specifically that the algea provide heating and cooling energy for the building -- not power for computers or lighting or any such contraption

R.I.F. >> reading is fundamental

since when do headlines an article make?

-- but not spelling B-D
2.1 / 5 (11) Apr 12, 2013
Read it. Do you think 1.3kW will heat that building in northern Germany in winter?
1 / 5 (2) Apr 12, 2013
It's definitely something worth watching. If maintenance costs and thermal performances are Ok, it could be big.
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 12, 2013
@El nose,
Even assuming we're not talking electrical power but just thermal, and assuming icuvd's calculation is low by an order of magnitude (although it seems reasonable)I don't believe the claim that it is heated and cooled without the use of fossil fuels. There just isn't the energy density available.
not rated yet Apr 13, 2013
Yeah, I like the attempt, and it's definitely going "to serve as a test case". I'm in the "I'll believe it when I see it" camp. I wonder if they have factored in the maintenance cost of this system, the cost of nutrients and CO2 and the labor cost of harvesting excess algae.
When the amount of algae growth in the tanks reach a certain point, some is harvested and taken to a processing facility inside the building.
If my count is right, that's 128 tanks to care for, in addition to the biogas equipment in the basement. In my experience, algae grows like crazy in the summer. That's going to be one busy maintenance guy. Maybe devote one apartment to a physically fit homeless guy in exchange for the extra labor? Sounds like a win-win to me. Not so sure about the winters, though.
not rated yet Apr 13, 2013
Many of the posters are missing the point:
The building is to serve as a test case

It's unrealistic to expect this to be anything like an optimal solution.

From this project, knowledge will be gained. What works. What doesn't. What can be tweaked.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2013
If people read the article it states specifically that the algea provide heating and cooling energy for the building -- not power for computers or lighting or any such contraption

R.I.F. >> reading is fundamental

You are correct, reading is fundamental: "making it the first in the world to be powered exclusively by algae." The term "exclusively" indicates that there is no other power source for the building. Granted, the article does not provide a description for energy used for anything except heating and cooling, so at the very least this article is poorly written. Consequently I scored it a 3.

No information has been provided to indicate that pumps, filters, processing, lighting, fans, or any of hundreds of other electrically-powered loads have their energy provided by energy from algae. The article also states that they use geothermal energy, but don't describe how. I should have graded it a 2.
not rated yet Apr 15, 2013
From the IBA homepage
The BIQ has a holistic energy concept: it draws all of the energy needed to generate electricity and heat from renewable sources
Moreover, the facade collects energy by absorbing the light that is not used by the algae and generating heat, like in a solar thermal unit, which is then either used directly for hot water and heating, or can be cached in the ground using borehole heat exchangers

So it looks like they're generating the electricity, too.
In any case. It's exciting to see someone undertaking this type of experiment on a realistic scale and under realistic conditions. Hamburg isn't exactly known for sunny skies and warm weather. So if it works there it should work (nearly) everywhere.
not rated yet Apr 15, 2013
Some other things which might/should be taken into account:
*Water volume in the algae tanks provides temperature buffering (large heat storing capacity).
*Due to the inefficiency of microbial metabolism, heat is produced as well during this process.
Add these up with the biogas scenario and they might reach their goal.

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