14 May 2013 — An apartment block in Hamburg, Germany, incorporating a vertical algae farm as a façade has become operational.

The five-storey Bio Intelligent Quotient building incorporates a “bioreactor façade” developed by Arup. Microalgae are cultivated in glass elements that make up the façade, enabling the apartment to supply its own energy, as well providing insulation and shade.

The algae are fed nutrients and carbon dioxide to create rapid growth. The algae are then harvested and used to create biogas. Algae are well suited to biogas production, producing up to five times the biomass of terrestrial plants.

Light not captured by the algae is converted to heat for hot water or stored in the apartment’s underground geothermal system.

The BIQ building illustrates that façades can serve a number of different functions, and can be much more than aesthetic cladding or an insulator.

“Using bio-chemical processes in the façade of a building to create shade and energy is a really innovative concept,” said Arup Europe research leader Jan Wurm.

“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.”

Organisers of the International Building Exhibition, whose competition led to the BIQ building, said that algae façades may be common practice within 10 years.

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