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First Algae-Powered Building in Germany Nearing Completion For Next Year’s Hamburg Exhibition

From exploring algae for cleaning oil spills, creating new biofuels, agriculture, and potential sunscreens, now a collaboration of scientists, architects, engineers, and investors in Germany is nearing the completion (expected in March 2013) of an algae-powered building as part of the International Building Exhibition’s Hamburg green community development project.

Algae-powered building rendering. Image courtesy of KOS Wulff Immobilien GmbH, project investor.

 ARUP – an independent design, planning, and engineering firm working on the building – said that this project “is set to provide the first real-life test for a new façade system that uses live microalgae to provide shade and generate renewable energy at the same time.

“The bioreactors not only produce biomass that can subsequently be harvested, but they also capture solar thermal heat – both energy sources can be used to power the building.”

 Strategic Science Consult (SSC), which is also one of the designers as well as co-sponsor of the project, further explained that the algae is produced using the power of the sun, carbon dioxide (CO2),and liquid nutrients, which culminate in energy sources including methane gas that can be used to both power and directly heat the building.

SSC added that, “This smart energy concept leads natural forces to work together in a loop. The façade of living algae biomass produces heat, which combines with geothermal and solar thermal energy to create an environmentally-friendly powerhouse.

“All the energy needed to generate electricity and heat are produced from renewable sources. Fossil fuels are not involved.”

Algae façade panels. Photo by KOS Wulff.

Getting slightly more technical, SSC also explained that, “At a yield of 15g dry weight per square meter per day for the conversion of biomass into biogas, a net energy gain of approximately 4,500 kWh per year can be achieved. In comparison, a family of four consumes about 4,000 kWh per year.”

The first algae-powered building will contain a total of 15 residential units ranging in size from 50 to 120 square meters, with a gross floor area of approximately 1,600 square meters.

ARUP said that, “Once completed in 2013, the house will allow scientists, engineers, and builders to assess the full impact of the system as a green alternative providing dynamic solar shading alongside sustainable, renewable energy.”

SSC believes that algae technology has great potential, particularly for large structures such as industrial and commercial facilities in reducing the CO2 produced during manufacturing processes.

Further touting the algae technology’s energy benefits, SSC added that, “Likewise, the building facades of public infrastructures (such as airports and railways), commercial real estate, high-rise buildings and residential buildings can be transformed into living energizers.

“Flat roofs, but also south-facing facades offer ideal conditions for this, which is the best thing not only for new buildings, but it also makes sense in modernizing existing buildings.”

Additionally, ARUP and the Center for Process Innovation (CPI) are moving ahead with their efforts to develop engineering systems to scale up a “novel idea that could revolutionize carbon capture.”

They say they’re developing a system of using algae, which draws on the CO2 emitted by power stations and factories.

“If successful, the new system will allow the biomass from the algae to be recycled and used to produce a wide variety of products,” said ARUP, adding that, “These could provide an additional source of revenue to offset carbon capture investment,” and they include:

  • bioethanol – which can be used as a motor fuel.
  • biopharmaceuticals.
  • biofuel methane rich biogas – reducing dependence on foreign fuels.
  • rich compost – a non-chemical soil conditioner for crop production.

Peter Head, global head of planning at ARUP, explained that, “The use of algae in this way could have a vast impact on the environment. It not only has the potential to reduce the carbon dioxide that power plants emit by 70 to 80 percent, improving the carbon footprint. The algae could potentially provide an alternative source of fuel in itself and through its by-products, a new revenue stream to support investment in carbon capture technologies.”

Dr. Graham Hillier, low carbon director at CPI, added that, “We are planning a rapid research and development program to move the concept from small-scale testing to larger scale demonstrations. We are also looking at ways of integrating the processes into existing power supply and waste management systems.”

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