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Algae Powered Architecture

By Jody McCutcheon

Talk about “green” buildings. Now you can quite literally, because architects and engineers have pushed the design envelope to bring sustainability and the battle against climate change into the domain of the building complex. Consider it better living through algae.


The idea is to incorporate algae farms into the building structure. This isn’t as strange as it sounds. Algae colonies are super-efficient absorbers of carbon dioxide and producers of biomass, which means they combat climate change and generate fuel for the structures they adorn. Strategically deployed algae-filled “bioreactor systems”—appearing as networks of tubes wrapped around the structure, or simply as a façade of rectangular panels—improve a building’s sustainability and environmental health. The design looks stunning, too. Not only is the façade marked by luminescent green; it’s literally alive, with the ability to transform carbon dioxide into oxygen and solar radiation into lipids for biofuel production.


But this is no futuristic dream–examples of algae-inspired architecture already exist. The Solar Leaf BIQ (Bio Intelligent Quotient) commercial-residential building in Hamburg boasts 200 square metres of algae filled bioreactive paneling, which supplies the building with all the energy it needs and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by six tonnes a year; while algae bioreactors at the Red Hawk power plant in Arizona, USA, absorb 80% of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions.


n both cases, the algae colonies are ultimately recycled through biomass generators to produce biofuel for use on-site. According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of the planet’s population lives in cities. Many urbanites arguably spend much of their time at home and/or work. By converting both of these places into “living spaces,” our cities will look greener, our planet will breathe easier, and we will all reap the rewards.

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