Fuel cells five times more efficient than existing powered by algae

[UK] In recent years, biophotovoltaics (BPVs) have emerged as a sustainable and low-cost approach to harvesting solar energy. Conventional BPVs have been single-chamber systems in which light is harvested, electrons produced and energy transferred to the electrical circuit.

The study was published in journal Nature Energy in January 2018. Both cost-effective and practical to use, scientists expect the fuel cell to bring algal-based systems one step closer to practical implementation.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s departments of biochemistry, chemistry, and physics describe a new two-chamber BPV system where the two core processes involved in the operation of a solar cell charging and power delivery are separated. According to researcher Kadi Liis Saar, the two processes have conflicting requirements. With a two-chamber system, researchers were able to design two unique units that optimize the performance of the processes.

Researchers tested the new system with algae genetically modified to carry mutations that enable the cells to minimize the amount of electric charge squandered during photosynthesis. The combination resulted in the creation of a biophotovoltaic cell with a power density five times that of previous designs (0.5 W/m2). Though they possess only a 10th of the power density of conventional solar fuel cells, BPVs boast several attractive features. Scientists envision algae BPVs being of particular use in areas such as rural Africa, where there is an abundance of sunlight, but no formal electric grid What’s more, BPVs do not necessarily require dedicated facilities for their production they can be built directly in local communities, the researchers said.

According to Algae Market By Cultivation Technology report published by Coherent Market Insights, algae has wide range of usage in terms of pollution control. It is used as an alternative for toxic chemicals to treat sewers, to capture fertilizer runoff in farms, and to treat water in ponds and aquaria. “This is a big step forward in the research for alternative, greener fuels,” said Dr. Paolo Bombelli of the University Of Cambridge Department Of Chemistry.


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