Algae on federal buildings could bring energy savings

Monday - 5/23/2011, 10:41am EDT

Sean Quinn, Associate AIA, Sustainable Design Specialist, lead architect and project manager for Process Zero, HOK

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(Image courtesy of HOK /Vanderweil)

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Nature was the inspiration for an award-winning design to upgrade and bring energy efficiencies to federal buildings.

The General Services Administration awarded architectural firm HOK for its idea to put algae on the exterior of a 1960s era Los Angeles federal building.

Algae processes carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen. The design would reduce the building's overall energy demand by 84 percent, reports Metropolis Magazine.

The plan is to "harness some of that innovation to create a building that's not only netzero carbon but actually has a positive environmental footprint," said Sean Quinn, a sustainable design specialist at HOK and the lead architect and project manager for the winning design.

The HOK design would place algae in 6-foot by 8-foot horizontal tubes. Although algae has been used before to generate energy, this design is the first to place the algae on the exterior of a building, Quinn said.

The design would also impact how employees in the building work. The algae's effect would be to create a "green glow" throughout the interior, which actually helps with people's ability to focus, Quinn said.

Quinn added that the federal government has a "wonderful opportunity" to use emergency technologies such as this one to improve energy efficiency.

"The question will be in the next few years, Can this technology be scaled in such a way to actually accomplish this?" Quinn said.