The Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) building in Hamburg, Germany is powered by algae, and has been operating for over a year. Residents say they are happy and the energy has been performing well.
The energy panels are 0.78 inches thick and cover about 200 square meters of the building. The panels are filled with algae from the Elbe River and have been pumped with carbon dioxide and nutrients. When the "bioreactors" are hit with sunlight, the microorganisms multiply and produce heat. This heat is captured for heating water or underground saline tanks. Meanwhile, the algae biomass is harvested and dried -- this can be converted into biogas or used in pharmaceutical and food products.
"It's producing more heat than we thought," said Jan Wurm, an architect at Arup, one of the companies working on the project. "We optimized the performance after introducing a new set of pumps at the beginning of the year."
The algae power also helps to remove CO2 out of the atmosphere. According to Wurm, one square meter of the panels reduces emissions by up to eight tons a year. Overall energy needs (and costs) have been reduced by 50%, but Wurm says they can achieve 100% with solar panels.
The downside to all of this is algae power is quite expensive -- for now. Total expenses per square meter are estimated to be about $2,500.