Arup unveils world's first
algae-powered building


World's first algae-powered building tested in Germany

News: the world's first building to be powered entirely by algae is being piloted in Hamburg, Germany, by engineering firm Arup.

The "bio-adaptive facade", which Arup says is the first of its kind, uses live microalgae growing in glass louvres to generate renewable energy and provide shade at the same time.

Installed in the BIQ building as part of the International Building Exhibition, the algae are continuously supplied with liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide via a water circuit running through the facade.

When they are ready to be harvested they are transferred as a thick pulp to the technical room inside the building and fermented in a biogas plant.

World's first algae-powered building tested in Germany

The facade also absorbs heat from the sun to warm the building's hot water tank, while sunny weather encourages the algae's growth to provide more shade for the building's occupants.

"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," said Jan Wurm, a research leader at Arup.

"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," he added.

The project was led by Arup in cooperation with German consultancy SSC Strategic Science Consult and the building was designed for the exhibition by Austrian firm Splitterwerk Architects. The shading louvres were made in Germany by Colt International.

The International Building Exhibition in Hamburg continues until 3 November.

Algae-powered buildings have until now remained in the conceptual stage, with ideas for a building covered in modular algae pods and a biofuel-powered skyscraper in London previously featuring on Dezeen – see all algae architecture and design.

  • I wish they showed images from the interior. Perhaps the green hue cast by the algae is overbearing.

    • Colin F

      Technically, the energy and sustainability aspects are fascinating and I guess the external appearance could be a talking point.

      I am not sure how they would address the issues that this creates internally, it does not appeal to me but perhaps there are some equally innovative features inside!

  • chinaimport

    Quite an interesting project, and the result of the first year running this vertical algae pool will show if Germany has enough light during winter time so the little algaes keep moving their bodies and keep on growing.

    The design behind these horrible traffic signs looks thematically correct but not very inspired. I hope there won’t be traffic congestion in front of it every day :D

    I wouldn’t mind if a sudden hurricane out of nowhere tore down this horrible traffic decoration.

  • peter

    Nice project. I had to laugh at one of the benefits being cited as ‘a visually interesting look’ though, engineers say the funniest things!

  • karldiskin

    This is an extremely exciting project, pity the architectural press is frequented by so many aesthetes who lack appreciation for function, only form. Exciting, because it brings the concept to reality in a functioning way, something happily skipped over by 99.9% of the sky-farm-blobs in the ‘see also’ section. And if it’s not perfect, well it’s a prototype, what do you expect? Better an ugly prototype that works than a fabulous render of a white elephant.

    • kaptkrunch

      Extremely true. This is an amazingly exciting project with a huge amount of potential. Being able to use algae facades and then to get them to work in developing countries would help to avoid a colossal energy splurge that’s going to happen as people start wanting air conditioning units.

  • Roger

    Grays Harbor, Wa. could do it.

  • MiniMal

    Power to the pond life! Or vice versa, as it turns out.

  • Phil

    There is a temperature range where specific algae specie can survive, meaning the temperature of water cannot fluctuate too much. How does this project manage to keep the algae alive during winter?

    It said somewhere that these algae containers work well as insulators to keep the inside warm or cool – doesn’t that mean there will be fluctuation in water temperature itself? Is sunlight enough to heat them up? This is a great project nevertheless!

  • Luisa

    I just talked with consultancy SSC Strategic Science Consult’s managing director and he said that the algae doesn´t offer energy to the building. It’s actually used in research to develop food and animal feed. They do not transform the algae in fuel. So it’s pretty complicated because I can’t see how algae power the building. I think that only the heat from the sun powers the building ,and not the microalgae. He said that there are heat exchangers in the façade.

    Could you guys help me to understand better how the algae offers energy? I think it doesnt.

  • Niyaaz

    I’m researching this area at the moment and yes truly exciting. There are so many variables but with theory guiding, testing and iterations I’m sure there will be some amazing projects such as this in our near future.

    Keep up the great work guys!