Prof Sara Wilkinson

University of Technology Sydney, Australia

Algae Building: is this the next sustainable building technology?


The United Nations Panel on Climate Change conclusion that we are on track for a three degree increase in global temperature by 2100 means the need to explore innovative technologies has never been greater. With aging infrastructure in many city centres it makes sense to focus reducing energy use and adopting technologies that deliver partial, or full, independence from the grid. There have been increases in standards in energy efficiency within building codes globally over the last three to four decades. Passive Haus design and high thermal mass as design technologies to reduce energy demand for heating and cooling are familiar to many. On-site energy generation technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels have improved their efficiencies too. However overall energy consumption increases and reliance on new build innovation and improvement will not deliver sufficient reductions to make an impact.

There is an innovative evolving technology that may offer another option to reduce energy use and environmental footprint over the building lifecycle. This technology is; Algae Building Technology (ABT). ABT comprises biomass production on site in glazed fašade panels which deliver solar thermal energy for hot water and heating. The biomass is converted to biofuel to supply HVAC equipment. One residential building in Hamburg has adopted the technology and a prototype panel in in research and development at UTS to assess production rates in Sydney, Australia. This keynote explains the technology and explores the feasibility for new build and retrofit across a range of building types.

Sara Wilkinson


Sara is a Chartered Building Surveyor, a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and a member of the Australian Property Institute (API). Her professional practice experience was in the UK in the public and private sectors, and included pre and post contract retrofit and advice on sustainability. She has worked in UK and Australian universities over 27 years.

She works at the intersections of sustainability, urban development and transformation. Her research aims to improve local, national and international outcomes of development in built environments in respect of pressing challenges: climate change, energy and water use, and a growing, increasingly urbanised, global population. Sara engages in trans-disciplinary research with colleagues from the science, health, business and technology as well as built environment disciplines.

Currently, she is an Associate Professor in the School of Built Environment at UTS, Sydney. Her PhD examined building adaptation, whilst the MPhil explored the conceptual understanding of green buildings. Her research focus is on sustainability, adaptation of the built environment, retrofit of green roofs, and conceptual understanding of sustainability. In 2015 Sara lead a City of Sydney funded project on the Feasibility of Algae Building Technology in NSW and she continues to work on a cross disciplinary project with a prototype panel being tested in 2018. With the Health Faculty, she researches the impacts on health and wellbeing of horticultural therapy on retrofitted green roofs. Sara is part of an international cross disciplinary team of researchers and collaborator in Sweden examining the use of virtual reality in design and construction of sustainable cities. In 2018 she completed an HIA funded project exploring whether a mandatory approach towards green roof and walls would work in Australia. Sara has published over peer reviewed 150 publications and several books. Her research is published in academic, professional journals and in 2016, an RICS Best Practice Guidance Note on Green Roofs and Walls for RICS practitioners.

Sara sits on professional committees for RICS to inform her research and to ensure direct benefit to industry. She sits on the editorial boards of five leading international journals and is the Regional Editor for the International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation in Australasia.

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