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Algae Power Station

Part 2 Project 2009
Stuart Paine
University of Brighton | UK
In a world where the vast majority of the existing housing stock is poorly insulated and therefore energy hungry, it is important to work with existing buildings as well as produce more energy efficient developments. There is increasing concern that current energy, food, water, transportation and waste trends need to be rationalised. Both ‘building’ and ‘community’ need to adapt to a more socially responsible future.

The proposal is to retro-fit the existing residential tower and create a new public thermal baths for the residents with the addition of onsite algae + CHP (combined heat and power) power production. The two main areas; thermal baths and residential units will coexist and have shared spaces for both parties to use.

The studio produced a low-carbon masterplan for Brighton in which my specific area of study was ‘Power’ (heat and energy). In this chapter I explored the use of algae biomass as an alternative and efficient way of producing fuel. As solar energy capture in the form of photovoltaics has proven to be quite inefficient, I have developed further the concept of harvesting the suns energy in the form of growing algae in bioreactors.

The facade of the block will be modified to accommodate algae bioreactors for algae biomass production. The biomass will be used by the CHP to produce heat and electricity for the residential units. A CHP works by burning fuel to producing electricity, during this process hot water is constantly produced, much like the combustion engine. The idea is that as the residents use the electricity the additional hot water that is produced can be used in the thermal baths as a useful ‘heat sink’.

As a structural strategy the existing concrete frame building will have select areas of its brick infill façade removed and steel truss cantilevers inserted. This will create new external spaces for residents and terrace areas for the thermal baths. One of the most common problems with large towers is the lack of easily accessible external space. In addition to the terraces a high level park will be created, removing two floor plates will give the height needed for trees. Finally the cantilevers will be clad in timber and have surface mounted algae bioreactors fitted.

Stuart Paine

For the last year our Studio (Unplugged) was focused upon the question of how the existing built environment will respond to and contribute towards a diverse, constructed ecology; a circular metabolism where towns and cities work in harmony with the natural world.

The question of what activities (narratives), strategies, programmes, and technologies may need to be introduced to our existing built environments and communities to ensure that they become viable circular metabolisms has occupied Stuart and his ‘Unplugged’ colleagues for the last two years. Therefore Stuart has been charged to work with existing communities and infrastructures.

Drawing upon resent undertaken by organisations such as Bioregional, Prof. David McKay and Bill Addis (among others) Stuart and his colleagues developed a comprehensive Sustainability Master Plan for Brighton.

Having undertaken this broad study Stuart then focused on a much-derided (by the local community & City Council) in 1960’s tower block in the North Laines area of Brighton. His ambition was to prove that this large lump of unloved accommodation and mass concrete gas-guzzler could be transformed into a mixed-used socially inclusive mini power station and viable community asset.

Stuart approached his studies in an extremely ambitious and rigorous manner. His understanding of the real potentials of this typical 1960’s tower has allowed him to propose a project that integrates well with the existing structural and cultural fabric, while at the same time providing additional programme, accommodation and brand new emerging technologies.

The problem of how a tower block hits the ground by proposing a park that folds into a community spar and sports facility.

Stuart’s ability to develop his thesis through many different media has been particularly impressive and a pleasure to witness. His has also undertaken first-hand research and to applied this to a given reality in an imaginative way.

Stuart’s thesis has considered one of the biggest questions that not only our profession, but our society as a whole has to find answers to, that of transforming our fossil fuel dependant societies into low impact ones. Stuart provides an extremely convincing glimpse of what our immediate future may look like.


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