prototype facade panel

A prototype facade panel, with integrated algae, is being developed by researchers at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Nathan Johnson writes in Architecture and Design about the Sustainable Built Environment 2016: International High-Performance Built Environment Conference – that gathered academics, researchers and other AEC professionals at Sydney’s Maritime Museum over two days recently to discuss, brainstorm and ultimately carve-out an improved and more-sustainable trajectory for Australia’s built environment.

While the majority of the keynotes and lectures were focused on macro challenges like planning policy and infrastructure spending, there was one break out session on smaller research projects exploring the viability and feasibility of new architectural building materials and manufacturing methods.

Titled High Performance Materials and Emerging Technologies, the session featured a presentation by University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) Associate Professor of the Built Environment, Sara Wilkinson, on from her joint-exploration into the potential for using algae as a building material in Australia.

The BIQ House

The BIQ House in Hamburg is already using algae as a building material.

Dr. Wilkinson and co-researchers, architect Paul Stoller and marine biologist Peter Ralph, have been looking at ways in which algae can be used on façades as an energy source and shading device for buildings.

The idea, said Dr. Wilkinson, grew from a similar project in Hamburg, designed by Arup and Austria-based Splitterwerk Architects, which is a fully functioning algae-powered building. BIQ House is clad in a number of bioreactor façade panels or “pools” which have microalgae growing inside. The algae grows in bright sunlight, providing additional shading, and also produces biomass and captures solar thermal heat, both of which can be harvested and converted into useable energy for the building.

Currently, BIQ has 200m3 of algae façade, which through conversion of biomass into biogas can generate a net energy gain of approx. 4,500 kWh per year.

Dr. Wilkinson and her team hosted a Living Algae Building Forum in July to gauge the interest of the industry in supporting the development of a similar system in Australia and to discover the major barriers to its uptake. Despite the associated costs and relatively unknown viability of the project, Dr. Wilkinson and her team have secured funding to develop a prototype façade panel and have a number of major industry stakeholders on board to develop it, including Arup, Lendlease and Steensen Varming engineers, as well as G-James window manufactures and Viridian glass.

Learn more about the BIQ House here.

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