• Germany's news in English

Algae façade makes house truly 'green'

The Local · 20 Mar 2013, 07:32

Published: 20 Mar 2013 07:32 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

For many of us, the concept of living in a place with stuff growing on its walls won’t necessarily be foreign. What will be unusual for those who have experienced the joys of residing in damp student flats and first homes away from the parental nest, however, is the idea that microorganisms flourishing on your walls is a good thing.

This is precisely the logic at work in the construction of a state-of-the-art apartment building in the once rundown, but increasingly trendy riverside quarter of Wilhelmsburg in Hamburg. Clad on its two south-facing sides with a transparent shell housing millions of microalgae, the five-storey Bio Intelligence Quotient (BIQ) house has been designed to harness heat generated by the microscopic plants and use it to warm building’s 15 apartments.

Know as a “bioreactor façade”, the shell works on the principle that the microalgae, most no bigger than bacteria, are cultivated through the supply of sunlight, liquid nutrients and CO2, a process that produces heat.

“The reason we are using microalgae is because they have higher efficiencies than any other crops, especially for energy purposes,” explained Dr Stefan Hindersin, a biologist with Strategic Science Consult (SSC), the firm behind the development of the façade’s technology.

In fact, the algae, sourced from a tributary of the Elbe River, the body of water that flows around Wilhelmsburg, produce up to five times as much biomass as terrestrial plants. This biomass can then be processed to produce biogas, albeit at a different location from the building itself.

Part of the Internationale Bauausstellung (IBA) - “The International Building Exhibition” - 2013, a multi-disciplinary, multi-million euro project funded by the government of Hamburg and scheduled to open on March 23rd, the BIQ house is one of 16 innovative buildings designed to transform the centre of Wilhelmsburg from a “brownfield” – land previously used for industrial and commercial purposes - into liveable space with housing, retail space, hotels, leisure facilities, and green areas.

The first building in the world to feature a bioreactor façade, the idea to build its external shell arose from a dilemma.

“We realised we were getting overheating problems in our photo bioreactors,” Hindersin told The Local. “Then we thought ‘OK, where do we need a lot of heat?’”

The answer was in buildings and the solution, he said, was to put the photo reactors on the walls of the BIQ house.

The façade is not expected to take care of all the building’s heating requirements, however. Instead, it will be a component of what the IBA website describes as the BIQ house’s “holistic energy concept”. This concept involves the BIQ house producing renewable sources of energy, such as solar and thermal, and being part of Wilhelmsburg Mitte’s integrated energy network, a network of local buildings also generating energy and linked to a main bio-methane plant.

Should the façade generate too much heat (for example, in summer when the building’s needs are lower), the energy can then be stored in buffers for later use or sold back to the local grid, Hindersin explains. In constant motion and changing colour as the algae grow, the shell will further benefit the BIQ house by insulating it from sound, heat and cold, and providing the building with shade on sunny days.

Story continues below…

Unsurprisingly, the €5-million building’s futuristic innovations are not limited to its exterior. Inside, two of the apartments will not have separate rooms, thereby allowing their inhabitants to configure them as needed.

According to the IBA website, “the individual functions of the apartment – bathroom, kitchen, sleeping area – can be swapped about or combined to form a ‘neutral zone’”. The logic is that in the future, with lines between living and working spaces less defined than they are now, there will be a greater demand for adaptable housing spaces.

An ambitious project inside and out, perhaps one the project’s most intriguing aspects, in the end, is the choice of Hamburg, a city famous for its long winters and inconsistent summers, as the testing ground for its sunlight dependant façade.

“It isn’t the best location, it’s even quite bad if we compare it with southern Europe or the sub-Sahara,” admitted Hindersin. “But, our belief is that if we can get this running in Hamburg, we can do it nearly everywhere.”

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

08:27 March 20, 2013 by wood artist
This may or may not work out as planned, but at least somebody is experimenting, trying something different. It may well lead to new discoveries, or identify an idea for further research. Whatever happens is positive, and that's the best part. It's a great idea and I hope to see more from the Local as the project gets going.

14:34 March 20, 2013 by DoubleDTown
Call me a typical American, and recognizing that this Europe and not the tropics, but just as with Passivhauser, there seems to me to be too much fixation by architects with energy costs associated with heating and too dismissive of an attitude toward comfort during warmer months.
22:41 March 20, 2013 by wood artist

Considering the geographic location of Berlin, the cold can be pretty significant, and heating costs can eat up a very significant portion of the household budget, so some thoughts about making things easier on that score make perfect sense. On the other hand, the weather seldom gets so hot that people die because of it. It might be unpleasant, but generally not life and death.

It's much the same in most of the US. While there are periods of high heat, and some people do suffer and die, those don't necessarily come every year. On the other hand, the cold is pretty much a regular occurrence. In short, the focus is on the high costs...which means heat in the winter, and not so much on the few days when summer might be a bit too warm for comfort. AC issues in someplace like Arizona are higher priority for obvious reasons, but in those areas you can almost do without a furnace at all. If you look at a map or a globe, you'll find that most all of Germany doesn't see that kind of weather, largely because it's much further north, and because the cold coming from the Arctic doesn't have anything like mountains to block it. The US is a much different geography.

12:08 March 24, 2013 by notelove2
congratulations on succeeding at something new - a very good sign for the future
10:29 April 15, 2013 by aardee
Whats the use when thousands and thousands of shop waste electricity by running lights all night when shops are closed.
Today's headlines
These are Germany's top ten universities
The new library of Freiburg University. Photo: Jörgens.mi / Wikimedia Commons

These are the best universities in all of Germany - at least according to one ranking.

Introducing Swabians - 'the Scots of Germany'
Photo: DPA

These Southern Germans have quite a reputation in the rest of the country.

Woman sues dentist over job rejection for headscarf
Photo: DPA

A dentist in Stuttgart is being taken to court by a woman whom he rejected for a job as his assistant on the basis that she wears a Muslim headscarf.

Isis suspect charged with scouting Berlin attack sites
Photo: DPA

German federal prosecutors said Thursday they had brought charges against a 19-year-old Syrian man accused of having scouted targets in Berlin for a potential attack by the Isis terror group.

Berlin Holocaust memorial could not be built now: creator
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin. Photo: DPA.

The architect of the Berlin Holocaust memorial has said that, if he tried to build the monument again today, it would not be possible due to rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and the United States.

'Liberal' Germany stopping Europe's 'slide into barbarism'
Ian Kershaw. Photo: DPA

Europe is not slipping into the same dark tunnel of hate and nationalism that it did in the 1930s - mainly thanks to Germany - one of the continent's leading historians has said.

Eurowings strike to hit 40,000 passengers
Travelers impacted by the strike on Thursday wait at Cologne Bonn airport. Photo: DPA.

The day-long strike by a Eurowings cabin crew union is expected to impact some 40,000 passengers on Thursday as hundreds of flights have been cancelled.

Deutsche Bank reports surprise quarter billion profit
Photo: DPA

Troubled German lender Deutsche Bank reported Thursday a surprise €256-million profit in the third quarter, compared with a loss of more than six billion in the same period last year.

US 'warned Merkel' against Chinese takeover of tech firm
Aixtron HQ. Photo: DPA

The German government withdrew its approval for a Chinese firm to purchase Aixtron, which makes semiconductor equipment, after the US secret services raised security concerns, a German media report said Wednesday.

Long-vanished German car brand joins electric race
Photo: DPA

Cars bearing the stamp of once-defunct manufacturer Borgward will once again roll off an assembly line in north Germany from 2018, the firm said Wednesday.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd