Known as the BIK, this building, which has 15 apartments, is powered entirely by algae.

The building pumps water, nutrients, and compressed CO2 between 129 "bioreactors." When the sun shines, the algae multiplies as a result of photosynthesis.

The system collects the residue, then converts it to biogas, which is burned in a boiler.

Together with a heat recovery system and solar panels on the roof, the building is completely energy independent.

2013-04-09

Co.Exist

This Entire Building Is Powered By Its Algae-Filled Walls

A new building in Germany gets its energy from what’s growing inside it.

Algae may still be years away as a source for road and jet fuel. But could it power whole buildings before long?

If you think that’s crazy, then look at this recently completed five-story residential building in Hamburg. It is covered by panels filled with algae, a fast-growing form of biomass. The building pumps water, nutrients, and compressed CO2 between 129 "bioreactors." When the sun shines, the algae multiplies as a result of photosynthesis. The system collects the residue, then converts it to biogas, which is burned in a boiler. Together with a heat recovery system and solar panels on the roof, the building is completely energy independent, according to its creators.

The panels are 98 inches by 28 inches, 0.78 inches thick, and cover about 2,150 square feet, on two south-facing sides. Known as the BIK, the building, which has 15 apartments, is an entry to the International Building Exhibition and was completed last month. It will open to the public soon.

"Algae will be cultivated for the generation of energy but also to control the light inflow and shading of the building. The facade will be constantly in motion and changing its color," says exhibition spokesperson Anna Vietinghoff. "Production of regenerative energy will not take place in an invisible energy center but will be an explicit component of the architectural concept."

BIK is a joint project of Spitterwerk Architects (which also has a concept for an algae-powered tower), Colt, Strategic Science Consult, and ARUP, which designed and installed the panels.

"It might well become a sustainable solution for energy production in urban areas, so it is great to see it being tested in a real-life scenario," says Jan Wurm, Arup’s European research leader, in a press release.

The companies haven’t said how well the building will perform in winter (algae doesn’t grow without light) or how much it might cost. But, encouragingly, they do say it’s safe to get rid of the wastewater via the sewer. Potentially, the concept could power whole buildings with low running costs and act as a CO2-sink at the same time. If so, that’s a pretty good combination.

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8 Comments

  • Timwebb

    Interesting idea. One hopes that no leaks occur, especially as the years go by, and the seals begin to deteriorate..."Liebling ! Our bedroom is full of... ALGAE !!"...and given that algae grow least well when the weather is coldest, and when energy is most necessary, I assume there is an emergency power supply backup available from the grid.
    Also I wonder about the shading effect in sunny weather; surely the natural influx of full sunlight is the very thing that makes summer such a beautiful time of year...

  • Emeketos

    very intresting concept though I would love to see how the cost break down to the point where it could in theory pay for it self. Would it use excess power to feed back into the power grid or store it in batterys for the night cycle? or is that completely unnesicary due to the gas build up during the day? eg. any unused gas not powering the complex would get stored for night time or burnt away to feed the power grid and take it back during the night?

  • Emeketos

    where do the nutrients come from they must be built into the cost of running the algae or are they part of the waste process of the algae? I figure the reactors are powering a co2 filter to bring in the gas. is the water recycled as well as part of the power system? 

  • ǝsɹıqǝsɹıɥ

    @Ajpikul I'm from Hamburg. I can tell you, it's there! :-) But it's f*ing cold here and right now it is very cloudy and there is fog. It's April in Hamburg. Believe me, the pictures of the building won't be as pretty as the computer-generated photo. But in the end the building looks like the CG photo. Give us a few weeks and real photos will pop up, for example on flickr.

  • Ajpikul

    I don't understand? Why is the computer-generated photo the only thing we have of this "recently completed" structure?

  • seemsArtless

    (For the rest of us that think in metric, the panels are about 2.5m long by about 71cm wide, and about 2cm thick.)