Strategic Science Consult (SSC), a Hamburg based company led by Martin Kerner, has developed a bioenergy facade that leverages sunlight to produce both heat and micro-algae biomass. With the number of people living in cities rising, space is becoming increasingly scarce, so utilising building facades could be one of the best ways to produce energy, whether it be thermal or electric (like solar glass). In this article, I’ll discuss how this technology work, what it’s benefits are, and where it’s currently in place.
The bioenergy facade is composed of multiple panels with leverages sunlight to then produce heat and micro-algae.
The heat is produced solely by the physical process of sunlight absorption into the water. Using a heat exchanger, it is then extracted from the warm culture medium to be used for heating and warm water. That heat that can be obtained will be between 20-25° but can also be increased to 50-70 °C if desired, thanks to a heat pump.
Micro-algae are plants that use light, CO2 and nutrients (N, P) for growth, creating biomass in the process. The algae can grow within a space of about 1 cm thickness between two transparent glass panels thanks to sunlight and nutrients that are provided automatically and are then harvested about 4 times daily, thanks to a method of flotation.
Benefits of the Bioenergy Facade
The most obvious benefit to this facade is the heat it can produce, ranging between 20-25° with the ability to increase it thanks to a heat exchanger. This heat can then go to heating buildings and their hot water. Furthermore, the facade also provides thermal insulation thanks to its four layers of heat-insulating glass.
In addition to heat production, these panels are of course able to produce large quantities of micro-algae which is rich in bioactive substances, such as antioxidants, vitamins or anti-inflammatory compounds allowing it to be marketed in various forms, like cosmetics, animal feed, various health foods and biomass. Furthermore, micro-algae needs CO2 to grow, meaning that the bioenergy facade actually absorbs CO2!
Other than the obvious benefits of this technology, the bioenergy facade also allows for amazing noise protection thanks to its multiple layers of glass and of course what is between them. According to Cellparc, sister company to Strategic Science Consult that deals with marketing the product:
The sound reduction index reached is about 50 dB classifying the bioenergy facades as class 6 according to DIN 2719, the highest protection class.
Because the facade isn’t transparent it allows for a certain amount of sun protection. Furthermore, the light transmission can be controlled by simply harvesting (or not) the algae making these panels very versatile, fitting the needs of different projects.
Current Building Using the Bioenergy Facade
The first project to integrate the bioenergy facade was the BIQ house in Hamburg, unveiled in 2013. The panels were installed on top of the original facades on the south-west and south-east faces of the four-storey residential building to form a secondary façade. The system has been operational ever-since, covering 100% of the buildings heating needs, producing hot water, micro-algae and offering all the other benefits I previously mentioned!
The bottom line is that the technology created by Strategic Science Consult is incredibly intriguing. The fact that it’s fully automated, allows economically viable production of both algae biomass and heat, and is technically fully developed, means that we may well see more buildings integrating this promising technology!