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Published on October 25th, 2012 | by Chris Milton


World’s First “Living Building” Uses Algae to Provide Energy and Shade

October 25th, 2012 by  

The world’s first ever “living building” has started construction in Germany. Known as the BIQ building, it uses moveable panels of micro-algae to generate heat, shade, and energy.

These panels are designed to be retrofitted onto the outside of existing buildings so that when sunlight hits them the micro-algae naturally photosynthesises and starts to grow.

This means the building becomes a dynamic, living instrument whose “bio-adaptive façade” responds to increased sunlight by creating shade and generating power for immediate use or storage.

The solution works in three specific ways:

Firstly, it traps heat from the sun. This stops it from entering the building in the first place and the heat is then reused to help to power the building.

Secondly, the growing micro-algae block out part of the sunlight entering the building — reducing glare, and creating a more pleasant environment. These first two will also have an impact on auxiliary systems such as air conditioners and purifiers.

Thirdly, the micro-algae is harvested as biomass and used to generate power for the building, turning a shading solution into a uniquely clean source of renewable energy.

The construction is based upon the winning entry in last year’s prestigious Metropolis magazine’s Next Generation Design Competition. This estimated that the panels would generate nearly 10% of a building’s energy requirements when fitted to an old federal building in Los Angeles.

The prototype will be ready for demonstration at the 2013 International Building Exhibition (IBA) in Hamburg, Germany.

By that time, hopefully fuller figures will be available, including greater depth into the 10% energy production figure, an insight into how it can effect auxiliary systems and the balance of both against energy required to manufacture the panels.

That aside, though, the only other drawback I can think of is that we all get used to living and working in a subtle shade of green light. Not much to ask in a green economy, is it? 

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About the Author

is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.

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