Algae-based bio-photovoltaic panels

Algae could become the material for photovoltaic panels of the future, or at least one of them. And now they’re arguably closer to doing so thanks to a pioneering project from the University of Cambridge. Its experts have succeeded in developing a bio-photovoltaic system which, thanks to a new double chamber design and the incorporation of genetically modified algae, multiply by five the energy density obtained with other previous models based on these organisms. In addition, the idea makes it possible to store the energy captured during the day, for its use after dark.

“This is a big step forward in the search for alternative and greener fuels”, Paolo Bombelli, researcher of the biochemistry department who participated in this survey. With her, says the expert, “We bring algae-based systems closer to their practical application”. Although it remains, the scientific community is part of it. The reason for this interest is clear. The earth, they point out from Cambridge, receives 10,000 times more energy from the sun than is needed for human consumption.

Hence the search for this team, which with its work has achieved an alternative “Potentially more profitable, convenient to use”, and so easy to produce that its creators see it huge potential for use by rural African communities who still do not have access to energy. “The local population could develop bio-photovoltaic solutions”, assures the team.

This in turn admits that, at the moment, the system would not offer the possibility of producing enough electricity for an electricity grid. If this is the case, it is because these algae-based photovoltaic cells have an energy density of 0.5 W / m². Although the result is a milestone compared to other attempts with plants and algae, it is currently a tenth of the density provided by conventional solar cells. “Although these solutions have many interesting features”However, they stand out from the prestigious university.

The work that scientists have developed integrate two relevant and new aspects. The first begins with cell design, which takes a complete turn in the trend of bio-photovoltaic systems. Thus, until now, solutions had been chosen which, in a single compartment, localized both the entry of light and the generation of electrons, as well as the transfer of energy to the electrical circuit.

Break that line this redesign opts for a dual camera system, in which the two processes necessary for the functioning of a solar cell (the generation of electrons and their conversion into energy), are separated. “The movement of cargo and shipping has allowed us to improve the performance of the unit that supplies the energy through minaturation., explains Tuomas Knowles, another member of the team. Betting on tiny scales results in significant changes in the behavior of fluids. Thanks to them, these algae cells were more efficient, in addition to having lower internal resistance and lower electrical losses.

Along with the new approach to design, the use of seaweed stands out as a highlight. That these are added to a solar cell means that the system take advantage of the photosynthetic properties of these organisms to convert light into electric current. With this, the University of Cambridge has opted for genetically modified algae which, thanks to their mutations, allow these cells to minimize the electrical charge that dissipates during photosynthesis. In addition to these benefits, seaweed adds others. “The fact that they grow and divide naturally means that systems made with these organisms require less energy investment and can be produced in a decentralized manner.”, assure the promoters of this work. With him, progress continues in finding approaches to harnessing solar energy that are more cost effective and more environmentally friendly.


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