Integrated biotectural system

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Water desalination

The Integrated Biotectural System or IBTS-Greenhouse is a holistic concept developed for hot arid deserts. It relies on a new quality of systems integration including architectural, technological and natural elements. In this case it means the combination of farming and living in one building, as well as desalination of sea water, or brackish groundwater. Neither the superstructure of the IBTS-Greenhouse, nor its technology resembles that of a common greenhouse.[1]

A group of companies called LivingDesert was established in 2011 to build the IBTS in Egypt. LD is no longer active. The IBTS was part of the national plan for large scale desert-reclamation with afforestation and for agricultural purposes.[2] [3]

The new type of facility has its roots in construction engineering and construction physics in contrast to agriculture as it is for most novel greenhouses. Thus it is also fundamentally different from seawater greenhouses in existence.

Without exception alternative desalination-technologies, air-to-water utilities and desalination-greenhouses in testing, require a multiple of the energy for fresh-water production compared to state of the art utilities. The IBTS requires less energy.

The significance of the term IBTS lies within the efficiency that only systems integration can achieve. Particular importance lies on the imitation of natural systems, especially closed cycles. The establishment of closed watercycles being the most crucial of all, because of the increasing severeness of the Global Water crisis particularly in hot desert climates.[4]

The desalination feature is bound to hot climates because it requires high amounts of solar thermal power. It has turned out to be very suitable in mitigation of the sinking of water tables in agricultural areas of the MENA region and beyond.


The energy of operation is 0.45 kWh per cubic metre of distilled water in the full scale version.[5] This means that 0.45 Kilowatthours of electrical energy are used for the generation of 1000 Liters of distilled water. Sources are seawater, brackish groundwater and or treated wastewater. This performance is more than 10x better than the records set by desalination plants in Dubai and Perth according to official numbers given by the respective authorities. This means that the IBTS is 10 times more energy efficient in the core operational process which signifies the most important performance data as well as financial- and environmental cost factor.

The IBTS is based on a modular concept, with a core size of 1 hectare. This is the minimum size for the construction and for self-sufficiency, but the circular modules can be built 10 hectare large, or more. Each module is based on sub-modules allowing for immediate commencement of operation and generation of profit (like a reafforestation site generating profit in its early stages). Best efficiency and full capacity can be provided with a superstructure approximately 100 modules large. 10 km² have the capacity of an industrial desalination plant, which is 0,5 million cubic meters of water per day.

The desalination utility of the first version of the IBTS published required a max. of 1.8 kWh per m³ of fresh water.[6] Since that time the condensator, or atmospheric water generation has evolved through a series of hygrothermal models and can now be operated at the given 0.45 kwh/m³.[1] It is designed for large-scale desert-greening and is based on small, completely self-sufficient modules.

It is deemed "subtech" for its lack of any critical technology. That means it is low risk and low maintenance. The IBTS works with natural processes hosted in a building. This way it never reaches natural, or physical limitations for growth like the desalination technology in the Persian Gulf already has because of brine discharge and temperature rise.[7][8]


The IBTS was developed for hot arid deserts and all models are tailor made for a hot environment. The performance given applies only to a hot climate, too. Aridity and solar irradiation are of no, or little importance to the performance. Nevertheless the overall system does work anywhere. The kind of performance feasible in cold climates, after possible adaptation of the structure and inherent technology, is not known yet.

The IBTS without the desalination functionality can be deployed everywhere economically in regards of it being an architype for urban development, too. This would mean living in a giant greenhouse-type structure, respectively living in a very green city that is covered by a "Skyroof" and offers a fully controlled environment. Desalination would still be an option, but not with the maximum efficiency of 0.45kwh/m³ of freshwater production.

Primary energy[edit]

Important for understanding the performance of the IBTS is the fact that it is operated with electrical and thermal energy produced from windpower and concentrated solar power, on-site (in a proprietary process).[1] This means that the energy requirement and the use of primary energy can be considered the same, which is not the case for common desalination plants.

Common desalination plants are dependent on power-plants using fossil fuels. Accounting for energy-loss during the energy transformation in the power-plant, common desalination plants use 2–3 times more energy than stated in the usual performance data. These are common factors for energy-conversion losses for the combustion engines used in the desalination industry.

Taking this into account the IBTS uses less than 5% of the current efficiency world-record, according to the inventor. The record is about 3.5kWh/m³ plus ~ 1.0kWh/m³ for seawater pumping and other factors not accounted for – multiplied with the efficiency of primary energy use. Together 9–14 kWh/m³. See primary energy

The economic reality behind these numbers looks even worse for common desalination plants (in Life-cycle assessments) because energy-loss occurs during many stages Upstream (petroleum industry), like drilling, transportation or the manufacturing of required machines. Some of this does not have to be considered for solar-power, because it is free and infinite. Relevant for solar-power is only "power installation per investment unit" not the efficiency of primary energy use.

Examples of other Biotecture[edit]

The most famous example is the Biosphere 2 that integrated residential areas into a greenhouse which was designed to be self-sufficient.[9] An example for an IBTS that is foremost a residential home is an Earthship.[10] These two buildings incorporate water-purification on high levels.

A practical concept is the "Greenhouse village". A concept worked out with well-made schemes, applicable for desert-greening.[11]

General examples for IBTSs (without desalination) include buildings that blend in with nature in contrast to buildings that host (natural) Life support systems or certain amounts of biomass. These examples are plentiful. Principally any (small) building that blends in with nature without disturbing it on any level could be considered an IBTS. Earthhouses are great examples and can be found in many (historic) cultures.

"Green office-towers" or vertical farming can not be labeled IBTS for the lack of integration. Highrise building is systematically detached from a resource-true approach. The production of steel and concrete for the building does not allow for a positive Material input per service unit (MIPS), or short resource productivity.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c Nicol-André Berdellé (2013-07-10). "Integrated Biotectural System project teaser" (PDF). 
  2. ^ Frank Heinrich (March 2013). "5th Water Roundtable, p.1" (PDF). 
  3. ^ Hany El Kateb (2013). "Suswatec, p.11,12" (PDF). 
  4. ^ John Vidal (February 20, 2011). "What does the Arab world do when its water runs out?". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ Frank Heinrich (March 2013). "5th Water Roundtable" (PDF). 
  6. ^ "The Energy-Agriculture connect". Feb 2012. 
  7. ^ “Status of Coral Reefs of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea region”
  8. ^ Dr. Christophe-Tourenq, “Conservation of Coral Reefs in the Persian Gulf”
  9. ^ John Allen, Chairman, Biospheres, LLC (February 20, 1992). "Biosphere2, Description, Purpose, and Conceptual Design". 
  10. ^ Kevin Telfer (Winter 2006–2007). "Biotecture - Building for a future" (PDF). 
  11. ^ Innovation network (May 2007). "Greenhouse village" (PDF). 

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