The Commission is in the process of updating some of the content on this website in light of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. If the site contains content that does not yet reflect the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, it is unintentional and will be addressed.

The BIQ House: first algae-powered building in the world

Highlighted Case May 2015
Share this Post:


Project summary

Situated in Hamburg, Germany (Am Inselpark, 17), the "building with Bio-Intelligent Quotient" (BIQ ) is the first algae powered building in the world. BIQ is a cubic, five-storey passive house with two differently designed façade types. The sides of the building that face the sun have a second outer shell that is set into the façade itself. Microalgae – tiny plants, no larger than bacteria – are produced within this shell, enabling the building to supply its own energy. This façade is the first of its kind.

BIQ has a holistic energy concept: it draws all of the energy needed to generate electricity and heat from renewable sources. Apart from generating energy using the algae biomass harvested from its own façade, the façade then collects energy by absorbing the light that is not used by the algae and generates heat, in the same way a solar thermal unit does, which is then either used directly for hot water and heating, or cached in the ground using borehole heat exchangers.  

BIQ has 15 apartments, some of which are based on the concept of switchable spaces with functions that can be alternately or simultaneously switched to a “neutral” zone.


 Project highlights

·         Architectural Concept: The BIQ House is a solid cubic structure of stonework and concrete. New layout typologies of apartments are available as a response to the contemparary demands on spaces. Interior design features are very simple to allow function-neutral zones with reconfigurable uses.

·         Smart Material Concept: Smart Material Houses exemplify a new prototype of buildings that combine adaptable structural design with smart technologies and building materials. The state of art bioreactor façade is pointing the way ahead for the future of the façade and low energy engineering for Green Buildings. The conversion of light to heat is a well-known physical process used in solar thermal design. In contrast, the conversion of light to biomass is a biochemical process facilitated by microscopically small algae, called microalgae. Microalgae-like vegetables use sunlight for the photosynthetic process and this is linked to the process of conversion of CO2 to organic matter. This fact leads to a new opportunity of reducing CO2 emissions through building façades.

·         Energy Concept: The basic idea behind the energy concept is the combination of different energy sources so that they will work together. The energy concept is thus capable of bringing together, in one circuit, solar energy, geothermal energy, a condensing boiler, district heating, and the production of biomass in the bioreactor façade.


Project partners

·         Coordinator: IBA Hamburg GmbH (Christian Roedel).

·         Idea, Concept, and Authorship: SPLITTERWERK, Label für Bildende Kunst, Graz / Arup Deutschland GmbH, Berlin / B+G Ingenieure, Bollinger und Grohmann GmbH, Frankfurt / Immosolar GmbH, Hamburg / Strategic Science Consult GmbH, Hamburg

·         Investors: Otto Wulff Bauunternehmung / Strategic Science Consult GmbH, Hamburg

·         Sponsors: Endress+Hauser Messtechnik GmbH+Co. KG, Weil am Rhein / Colt International Gmbh, Kleve / ME-LE Energietechnik Gmbh, Torgelow / BGT Bischoff Glastechnik AG, Bretten / Arup Deutschland GmbH

·         Technical planning: Arup Deutschland GmbH, Berlin / sprenger von der lippe / Technisches Büro der Otto Wulff Bauunternehmung GmbH / Feyerabend + Gunder GmbH, Goslar

·         Façade system development: Arup Deutschland GmbH, Berlin / Strategic Science Consult GmbH, Hamburg / Colt International GmbH, Kleve / Gefördert von Forschungsinitiative „ZukunftBau“

·         Other project partners: Hamburg Energie GmbH, Hamburg / Immosolar GmbH, Hamburg


Time schedule

Construction: December 2011- April 2013


Building areas

Size of site: approximately 839 m²

Gross floor area: approximately 1,600 m²

Floors: 4 + penthouse level

Size of units: 15 apartments (1 duplex and 14 single-storey) with approximately 50 to 120 m² (configuration "on demand")


Construction costs

Project costs: approximately 5 M € (funded by the Hamburg Climate Protection Concept)


Building performance

·         High performance envelope

The bioreactor façades (see IMAGE 2) on the southeast and southwest sides of the building (200 square meters) are used for production of biomass and heat. They consist of 129 sun-tracking reactor modules, called photobioreactors (PBRs), 70 cm wide, 270 cm high and 8 cm thick, arranged in groups. The PBRs are mounted on a steel frame that is simultaneously used for wiring and supporting the vertical axis. The PBRs are filled with water (culture medium), in which microalgae are cultivated. As a nutrient, CO2 is added to the culture, for which flue gas from a biogas-fuelled microCHP (combined heat and power unit) is used. The CO2 converts the growing algae to biomass.

In addition, the façade also serves the conventional purposes of insulating the building from sound, heat, and cold, and provides shade in bright sunlight.

The living space has underfloor heating.

·         Energy cycle with renewable systems

The algae reactor modules PBRs are the main point of all energy processes. Heating and electricity needs are covered by converting and distributing different types of energy. Following the scheme (see IMAGE ¨Energy Cycle¨), a brief explanation of this integrated energy cycle is given below:

1.     Bioreactor façade: Due to sunlight and a constant turbulence to avoid algae aggregation, microalgae grows inside the PBRs producing heat (38% of efficiency vs 60-65% with a conventional solar thermal) and biomass (10% of efficiency vs 12-15% with a conventional PV). The bioreactor façade is competitive in comparison to other technologies, due to the façade providing a similar efficiency level and removing a high amount of CO2 by using flue gas delivered in the gas burner to produce biomass in the PBRs. It achieves up to 6 tonnes per year of CO2 reduction.

2.     Algae Biomass: The biomass resulting from the growth (30KWh/m2.year) is automatically harvested through an algae separator and collected in a temperature-controlled container. Then, this amount is removed to an outdoor biogas plant to produce biogas.

3.     Heat: The associated heat production of about 40ºC (150KWh/m2y) is reintroduced to the system via the heat exchanger in the heating network or stored in the geothermal boreholes.

4.     Biogas: Upon arrival to the external biogas plant, up to 80% of biomass is converted into methane.

5.     Boreholes for storage: The boreholes consist of wells located under the building subsoil and are used to store heat from 16 to 35 degrees depending on the season.

6.     Heat pump: When a higher temperature is required for heating or hot water, a highly efficient heat pump is used in pumping it back into the system.

7.     Gas burner: A unit is operated to provide the CO2 nutrient (flue gas) required by the microalgae in the bioreactor façade and, at the same time, to cover the supply of hot water at 70ºC or heating in the energy network.

8.     Control center: A central building management system (BMS) called Rockwell SPS manages all the processes necessary to operate the bioreactor façade and to fully integrate it with the energy management system of the building. This includes the control of the algae cell density and the temperature in the culture medium.

9.     District heating system: "Wilhelmsburg Central Integrated Energy Network" is the name of the local network which provides/receives heat to/from this building.

10.  Photovoltaics (not implemented): Initially, the original plan envisaged the use of photovoltaics on the extensively greened roof surface. But this was not implemented. Therefore, until installation of PV system, all electricity required is provided from the grid.

The heat demand of the building is already relatively low, since the “BIQ” runs in accordance with the Passive House standard. Much of the heat is therefore needed on a seasonal basis for hot water.



Prize winner in the competition 'Land of Ideas' –  'Ausgezeichnete Orte im Land der Ideen' 2013/14.

3rd prize in the 'Deutsche Fassadenpreis 2013' in the category 'special prize' (remarkable artistic design).

Zumtobel Group Award 2014 in the category "Applied Innovations".


You can find further information on the project, project partners etc., here


Interesting lInks:


Acronym of the case


Lessons learnt

BIQ is the world’s first building with a bioreactor façade. The efficiency of the operation has still yet to be proven, nevertheless, it is a model for other new buildings or refurbishments aiming to provide clean energy, as bioreactors can be installed without major construction difficulties. Furthermore, the BIQ model opens new perspectives for domestic life, especially in the debate as to whether it is more sensible to use space in a compact way, through built-in elements, rather than consuming too much space for maximum individualism.

Award labels


Available link languages

Start date - End date

Sunday, 1 January, 2012 to Sunday, 31 March, 2013