Scientists harness algae for clean electricity: A new renewable energy source

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In the quest to find sustainable energy sources, algae may hold the key.

Researchers from Concordia University have discovered a way to generate electricity using algae, which not only produces no carbon emissions but also helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The team from the Optical-Bio Microsystems Lab recently published their findings in the journal Energies.

They have developed a method to extract energy from the process of photosynthesis in algae.

Photosynthesis is the way plants and algae convert sunlight into energy, and in this process, they produce oxygen and electrons. The researchers’ model captures these electrons to generate electricity.

Kirankumar Kuruvinashetti, Ph.D., now a postdoctoral associate at the University of Calgary, explains, “Photosynthesis produces oxygen and electrons. Our model traps the electrons, which allows us to generate electricity.

This technology absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and gives you a current. Its only byproduct is water.”

The innovative device, called a micro photosynthetic power cell, consists of two chambers separated by a special membrane. One chamber contains algae suspended in a solution, while the other chamber has a chemical called potassium ferricyanide that helps in accepting electrons.

As the algae undergo photosynthesis, they release electrons, which are then captured by electrodes on the membrane, creating an electric current.

Even more impressively, this system works both day and night. Dhilippan Panneerselvam, a Ph.D. candidate and co-author of the study, explains, “Just like humans, algae constantly breathe—they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

During this process, they also release electrons, so electricity generation doesn’t stop, and the electrons are continuously harvested.”

Each power cell is very small, measuring only two centimeters by two centimeters by four millimeters. While the current technology can’t yet compete with traditional solar panels in terms of power output, the researchers are optimistic about its future.

The maximum voltage of a single power cell is 1.0V, which is enough to power low-energy devices like sensors used in the Internet of Things (IoT).

Muthukumaran Packirisamy, a professor in the Department of Mechanical, Industrial, and Aerospace Engineering and the study’s lead author, believes this technology could become a viable and affordable clean power source. He highlights that their system offers significant advantages over existing technologies.

Unlike silicon-based solar panels, which are difficult to dispose of and involve hazardous materials, the algae-based system uses biocompatible polymers. These materials are safe, easy to decompose, and cheap to manufacture.

In the future, with more research and development, including the use of artificial intelligence, this algae-based technology could become an important part of our renewable energy landscape. It’s an exciting step towards a cleaner, more sustainable way to generate electricity.