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Arup enlists algae in battle to save energy

17 Sep 12 A zero-energy house under construction in Germany is set to provide the first real-life test for a new façade system that uses live microalgae to provide shade and generate renewable energy.

The 'bio-adaptive façade' will be installed in the ‘BIQ' house for the International Building Exhibition (IBA) which runs in Hamburg during 2013.

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

The façade concept is designed so that algae in the bio-reactor façades grow faster in bright sunlight to provide more internal shading. The 'bio-reactors' not only produce biomass that can subsequently be harvested, but they also capture solar thermal heat. Both energy sources can be used to power the building.

In practice, this means that photosynthesis is driving a dynamic response to the amount of solar shading required, while the micro-algae growing in the glass louvres provide a clean source of renewable energy.

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"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 Arup's Europe research leader Jan Wurm. “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."

"It's been a very rewarding scheme to be involved,” said Simon O'Hea, director at Colt. “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."

Once completed in March 2013, the BIQ house will allow scientists, engineers and builders to assess the full potential of the system as a green alternative providing dynamic solar shading alongside sustainable, renewable energy.

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