10.4.13/ ImageUNUSUAL / ALGAE – Live algae will power these apartments


This 15-apartment housing complex in Hamburg, Germany, is definitely not the first residential building to produce every drip of energy it uses, but the newly completed lime green box is, in fact, the very first to owe its net-zero status to the growth of live algae. The structure, known as BIK, is armored in panels designed to nurture algae growth, with water, nutrients, and carbon dioxide pumping inside each of the building’s 129 “bioreactors.” As the sun shines, the algae photosynthesizes and grows until there’s enough biomass for the structure’s mechanics to convert the residue into energy. The algae system, supplemented by solar panels and ultra-insulating architecture designed to keep indoor temperatures comfortable without using any energy at all, means the creators of BIK, which include Spitterwerk Architects and the global consulting firm ARUP, can loudly boast the building’s complete energy independence.

The panels also provide internal shade and temperature regulation in the warm seasons. For the sunnier it is, the more algae grows, which in turn makes the panels darker and the interior temperature cooler, kind of like massive, algae-driven transition lenses.

Though Jan Wurm, a research leader at Arup, said in a press release that the algae system could very well “become a sustainable solution for energy production in urban areas,” Co.Exist notes that “the companies haven’t said how well the building will perform in winter (algae doesn’t grow without light) or how much it might cost,” so there may be a few years yet before we’re outfitting every home with algae-packed bioreactors.


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