STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Complexity of the Modern Algae-Powered Building
By Staff News & Analysis - April 16, 2013

Algae-powered apartment complex blooms in Hamburg BIQ House … A 15-unit net-zero energy apartment complex clad with an algae-filled bio-adaptive shell, is completed in Hamburg, Germany, as part of the International Building Exhibition. – Mother Nature

Dominant Social Theme: Hard to build a house these days.

Free-Market Analysis: It is getting more difficult to live, isn't it? We only need to look at this example in Hamburg, Germany to understand that living in a modern home is an undertaking of a "village" not an individual.

Once upon a time, especially in the frontiers of the US, houses were erected in several days. True, they were log cabins but they served as warm, utile homes for those who chose to live there.

Today, it takes cutting-edge architecture to build a modern home. The trend inevitably is toward more and more complexity.

It is the same sort of thing that happened to the car. A car used to have an engine, mainly. Today, cars are filled with computers and warnings not to try to fix the engine yourself. Many of these electronic items may have something to do with environmental monitoring as well as driver-behavior issues. This last area is growing.

Increasingly, what is being installed in the modern era seems to have more to do with taking away an individual's ability to make personal decisions regarding technology than increasing ease-of-use and utility.

This article about an algae powered house in Hamburg would seem to be a good example of this trend as well. Here's more from the article:

Here's a …freshly completed residential complex in Hamburg, Germany, where even Slimer would feel right at home. And while it may not contain an ounce of ectoplasm, tiny photosynthetic organisms commonly associated with pesky green slime are key to the zero-energy structure's groundbreaking renewable energy systems. As the world's first building powered by algae, the 15-unit Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House generates biomass and heat with the assistance of 129 integrated glass bioreactor panels (read: microalgae harvesters) measuring .78 inches thick and covering approximately 2,150 square feet of the four-story structure's southeast and southwest facing sides.

Most conveniently, the algae-cultivating bio-façade provides the building with thermal insulation, shading from direct sunlight, and noise reduction in addition to generating a ready-to-harvest source of biomass. The project's International Building Exhibition (IBA) profile provides a comprehensive overview:

The algae flourish and multiply in a regular cycle until they can be harvested. They are then separated from the rest of the algae and transferred as a thick pulp to the technical room of the BIQ. The little plants are then fermented in an external biogas plant, so that they can be used again to generate biogas. Algae are particularly well suited for this, as they produce up to five times as much biomass per hectare as terrestrial plants and contain many oils that can be used for energy.

The BIQ has a holistic energy concept: it draws all of the energy needed to generate electricity and heat from renewable sources — fossil fuels remain untouched. It is able to generate energy using the algae biomass harvested from its own façade. Moreover, the façade collects energy by absorbing the light that is not used by the algae and generating heat, like in a solar thermal unit, which is then either used directly for hot water and heating, or can be cached in the ground using borehole heat exchangers — 80 metre-deep holes filled with brine. This remarkably sustainable energy concept is therefore capable of creating a cycle of solar thermal energy, geothermal energy, a condensing boiler, local heat, and the capture of biomass using the bio-reactor façade.

Three years in the making, the $3.4 million euro pilot project — it was designed and built for the IBA by the joint team of Austria-based sustainable architecture firm Spitterwerks Architects, Colt International, Strategic Science Consult, and global engineering firm ARUP — will be used to test the feasibility of algae-cultivation as a source of renewable energy for citybound buildings in the future.

This is no log cabin! It sounds pretty complicated to us. Plus, we are not sure we want to live in a building covered with panels filled with algae, even if it is energy efficient.

And what is so wrong with oil and coal anyway? You can remove these power sources from the ground and use them yourself. But try to figure out how to power your house with algae – at a cost of US$3.4 million.

Increasingly, self-sufficiency seems to be defined in ways we never imagined. Self-sufficiency itself seems to take … a village. And communality seems to be a built-in part of these "green" efforts.

The article informs us toward the end that, "Two of the total of fifteen apartments to be housed in the BIQ do not have separate rooms, but rather enable the inhabitants to configure their living arrangements 'on demand.' "

Now, this is a novel concept but what it means in reality is that your own apartment comes with a roommate! To its credit the article anticipates this criticism with the following explanation: "Depending on their needs, individual functions of the apartment — bathroom, kitchen, sleeping area — can be swapped about or combined to form a 'neutral zone.'"

Glad to know that. Hey, here's an idea: Why not just build individual apartments?

And why use algae for power?

This sort of building experiment is surely representative of a dominant social theme. The consistent impulse of modern society – under the guise of green empowerment – is to make even simple tasks complex.

After Thoughts

Life is hard to master without the support of the technocratic state.

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