Splitterwerk Architects and engineering firm Arup have unveiled what is thought to be the world's first building to be powered partly by algae. Officially "unveiled" at the International Building Exhibition hosted in Hamburg, the design, dubbed the BIQ, has a "bio-adaptive" facade that is claimed to be a first for using algae within its glass-paneled facades in order to generate energy, and provide shade, to a working building.

This year's exhibition showcases the BIQ's double layer facade on the sun-facing southeast and southwest sides of the building. Within the glass panels, tiny "micro-algae" plants, most no larger than bacteria, are continuously supplied with liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide via a water circuit. With the aid of sunlight, the algae photosynthesize and grow until they can be harvested. They are then separated from the remaining algae and transferred to the BIQ's energy management center as a thick pulp where they are fermented to provide bio-gas which can be used to heat water.

The project team at Arup confirms how well-suited algae are for this type of bio-fuel production. Algae produces up to five times as much biomass as terrestrial plants per unit area, and contain many oils that can be used for other energy uses.

The algae bioskin, which covers 200 sq m (2,150 sq ft) of the facade, also provides shade.

The BIQ aims to be in full operation by April 25. It has 15 residential apartments that contain flexible layouts.

Note that while the building is widely-reported as being algae-powered, the algae appears only to be used in the generation of hot water, and it is not clear if the algae biofuel need be supplemented by natural gas. Electricity is provided conventionally.

The benefits of algae have been shown to extend beyond biomass fuel, and into pollution-detection and carbon dioxide-absorption combined with oxygen release. The concept of algae supporting future lifestyles extends beyond the home for Arup. It recently visualized a skyscraper concept for the year 2050 that included algae power as an energy source.

Source: IBA Hamburg