Today, here’s a look at 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.
Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House
Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House

Elaborates Jan Arup, a research leader for ARUP, in a news release issued by the company:

Using bio-chemical processes in the façade of a building to create shade and energy is a really innovative concept. It might well become a sustainable solution for energy production in urban areas, so it is great to see it being tested in a real-life scenario.
Very cool. However,  Co.Exist brings up a good point: Despite the strategic orientation of the bioreactor panels, Hamburg isn’t exactly known as the most sunshiny of locales and, obviously, algae reproduces when presented with abundant bright sunshine. The panels will be supplied with liquid nutrients and compressed CO2 via a separate water circuit for optimum growing conditions but without the key ingredient of photosynthesis, sunshine, BIQ's green shell may struggle in the algae-production department during the winter months.

During the summer, however, when the sun is out in full-force, BIQ will no doubt go into full “bloom” mode. As Curbed notes, the panels, acting as “massive, algae-driving transition lenses,” will grow noticeably darker when filled with elevated levels of algae. In turn, the interior of the building will be kept nice and cool. So much for window AC units when you have bacteria-sized organisms multiplying on the side of your building to help you beat the summertime heat, eh?

As for the balcony-blessed apartment units which each clock in beween 538 and 1,291 square feet:

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.' Depending on their needs, individual functions of the apartment — bathroom, kitchen, sleeping area — can be swapped about or combined to form a "neutral zone." In this way, the necessities of everyday life determine the appearance of the apartment, and the versatile layout can be adapted to suit the residents and their daily lives at any given time.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Algae-powered apartment complex blooms in Hamburg
The BIQ House is a 15-unit net-zero energy algae-powered apartment complex clad with an algae-filled bio-adaptive shell.