Algae powers sustainable house

Durban – To homeowners trying to keep their swimming pools sparkling, algae is a nuisance.

But to a trio of local experts, the delicate plant holds the key to self-sustainability…

Trevor Govender, a biologist and architect at Line Tec Designs; Dr Akash Anandraj, the director for algal biotechnology at the Mangosuthu University of Technology; and RC George, a senior lecturer in conservation studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, presented their findings at the International Union of Architects World Congress on Monday, using a building in Germany as an example.

Govender focused on eco-friendly buildings whose algae panels made them almost completely self-sustainable.

The researchers explained: “Almost all aspects of social lifestyles are in the process of change to conserve energy. This model demonstrates the benefits of integrating biotechnology and architecture to dwellings that encourage a sustainable lifestyle.”

The presentation focused on the ability of algae energy production to fuel an entire building, including electricity, central heating and water heating.

Sufficient energy would be ensured by the use of other biological systems, such as algae tanks to draw off internal carbon dioxide, which algae used to grow, Govender explained.

“Oxygen-rich air from the head space of the algae tank would supplement ventilation of the house.”

Durban would be an ideal environment to continue implementing the project, being fairly sunny all year round as well as being able to sustain algae growth even in winter.

“Just imagine the possibility of putting up a building like this in Durban. We are experiencing winter now, but look how hot it is. Even I’m perspiring!” Govender noted.

Algae’s biomass production (energy output), he explained, was five times higher than, for example, a house plant feeding on the same substrate.

The only building now using this technology, in a design dubbed the BIQ, was unveiled at the International Building Exhibition hosted in Hamburg in March last year.

It had “a ‘bio-adaptive’ facade that is claimed to be the first for using algae within its glass-panelled facades in order to generate energy, and provide shade, to a working building”.

“This model would integrate biological systems with technology to create an environmentally friendly habitat,” the trio explained in their abstract.

This innovative alternative to fossil fuel as an energy source could be implemented almost anywhere in the world to provide household necessities such as hot water and electricity in areas that might have irregular power supplies.


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