SolarLeaf – bioreactor façade

  • First façade system in the world to cultivate micro-algae to generate heat and biomass as renewable energy sources.
  • Structural glass photobioreactors used as external cladding elements and dynamic shading devices.
  • Fully integrated in the house´s building services system to harvest, distribute, store and use the solar thermal heat on site.

Unveiled in a pilot project at the International Building Exhibition (IBA) in Hamburg in 2013, the world´s first bio-reactive façade generates renewable energy from algal biomass and solar thermal heat. The integrated system, which is suitable for both new and existing buildings, was developed collaboratively by Strategic Science Consult of Germany (SSC)Colt International and Arup. 

The biomass and heat generated by the façade are transported by a closed loop system to the building’s energy management centre, where the biomass is harvested through floatation and the heat by a heat exchanger. Because the system is fully integrated with the building services, the excess heat from the photobioreactors (PBRs) can be used to help supply hot water or heat the building, or stored for later use. 

Multiple benefits

The advantage of biomass is that it can be used flexibly for power and heat generation, and it can be stored with virtually no energy loss. Moreover, cultivating microalgae in flat panel PBRs requires no additional land-use and isn’t unduly affected by weather conditions.

In addition, the carbon required to feed the algae can be taken from any nearby combustion process (such as a boiler in a nearby building. This implements a short carbon cycle and prevents carbon emissions entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

Because microalgae absorb daylight, bioreactors can also be used as dynamic shading devices. The cell density inside the bioreactors depends on available light and the harvesting regime. When there is more daylight available, more algae grows – providing more shading for the building.

Full-scale pilot project

SolarLeaf façade was installed for the first time on the BIQ house at the IBA in Hamburg in 2013. In total, 129 bioreactors measuring 2.5m x 0.7m have been installed on the south-west and south-east faces of the four-storey residential building to form a secondary façade.

SolarLeaf provides around one third of the total heat demand of the 15 residential units in the BIQ house.

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  • View of the world´s first SolarLeaf-Building, with 200 m2 of active SolarLeaf area; South-east elevation. Credit: Colt International, Arup and SSC GmbH.Open gallery

    SolarLeaf façade is based on the idea to utilise bio-chemical process of photosynthesis for the design of energy efficient buildings and building clusters.

  • View of the SolarLeaf-Louver detail. Credit: Colt International, Arup and SCC GmbHOpen gallery

    In total, 129 bioreactors have been installed on the south west and south east faces of the four-storey residential building as a secondary façade.

  • View the World´s first SolarLeaf-Building, with 200 m2 of active SolarLeaf area; South-east and South-west elevations. Credit: Colt International, Arup and SSC GmbH.Open gallery

    The SolarLeaf façade was installed for the first time on the BIQ house for the International Building Exhibition (IBA) 2013.