This micro-algae facade powers a net zero house

In May of last year, we brought you word that the winners of the Next Generation Design Competition 2011 was a futuristic design from HOK/Vanderweil.

As you may recall, the design called for transforming the building into a “living machine,” via algae. A year and a half or so later, that futuristic concept seems a whole lot more down to earth, as a similar project is currently under construction in Germany.

This net zero house, known as the BIQ, is a new construction project rather than a retrofit, but like the HOK/Vanderweil design, will include energy-producing micro-algae to help it produce its own power.

Evolo reports that this project is set to provide the first real-life test for a new façade system that uses live microalgae in this way, while also provide shade for the building. 

Billed as incorporating the world’s first  ‘bio-adaptive façade,’ the BIQ house is under construction in Hamburg, where it will be featured for the International Building Exhibition (IBA), which runs through 2013.

The adaptive quality of the façade exploits the fact that algae grows faster in bright sunlight, which can also bring unwanted heat and glare into a building. In speeding up its rate of reproduction, conveniently enough, the micro-algae actually helps to block direct sunlight from entering the building (while providing what we imagine might be a soft, green, diffused light).

This algae can then be harvested via the bioreactor to power the building, turning unwanted sunlight into much-appreciated juice. Even the solar thermal heat captured by the algae is put to work in the BIQ house in providing power.

In this way, photosynthesis drives the building’s dynamic response to the amount of solar shading it requires, while the micro-algae growing in the glass kicks in a clean source of renewable energy.

The  façade components for the BIQ house in Hamburg are being fabricated in Germany by Colt International, based on bio-reactor concept and design work led by Arup, an international design consultant, in cooperation with SSC Strategic Science Consult of Germany. The BIQ house was designed for the IBA exhibition by Splitterwerk Architects of Graz, Austria.

This project is super green and super innovative, even for Germany, which currently covers 10 percent of its total electricity needs with solar and helped to pioneer the ultra low-energy Passive House standard.

Arup’s Europe Research Leader, Jan Wurm told eVolo, “To use bio-chemical processes for adaptive shading is a really innovative and sustainable solution, so it is great to see it being tested in a real-life scenario. As well as generating renewable energy and providing shade to keep the inside of the building cooler on sunny days, it also creates a visually interesting look that architects and building owners will like.”

Simon O’Hea, Director at Colt, weighed in by saying, “We have put a lot of work into meeting the technical challenges and we now have a commercial-scale, effective solution that uses live algae as a smart material to deliver renewable energy. You can’t get greener than that.”

The BIQ house is slated for completion in March 2013, at which time scientists, engineers and builders visiting Hamburg for the International Building Exhibition will have a chance to check out this big green wonder (and the systems behind it) for themselves.

Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling