ORE Design + Technology is developing a unitized algae panel for a more efficient, less polluting energy alternative to today's photovoltaics in building design. Derived from studies conducted at Colorado's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Chlamydamonas Reinhardtii (CHL) was found to produce hydrogen more efficiently with genetic modifications in the hydrogenase enzyme, making it a viable source of energy production. Our area of research is modulating this technology into a unitized framework that can be incorporated into new or existing structures such as buildings, bridges, and highway walls. These algae panels would allow for local, biologically-produced clean energy to be available in urban and rural environments. Structures built or retrofitted with algae panels would function like plants in nature, creating their own energy through photosynthesis. According to the United States Green Building Council, buildings account for nearly half of all energy consumption in the United States, making exploration into locally-produced renewable energy alternatives increasingly critical. On-site production eliminates loss of energy in transmission, thereby reducing waste. We see this not simply as a development in ecological fuel sources, but as a revolution in the structure of our fuel supply system and a potential shift in environmental design.
ORE applied this science as a conceptual systems model of algal architectural panels for the winning entry of the Royal Institute of British Architects' International Energy Revolution Competition in 2003. The potential energy in a kilogram of hydrogen is 33.26 kWh. Using the genetically modified algae, a building could be free of fossil fuel energy consumption. When applied to a residential building, our analytic model shows that having algae tanks over 55% of a building's facade would produce enough power for 5 residents at 7.5 kWh/day power consumption. The remaining 45% free facade area allows for a much higher percentage of window openings than a typical building and is an opportunity to maximize passive solar design to further reduce energy consumption.