Scientists develop breakthrough technique in generating electricity from algae
In an effort to limit carbon emissions, researchers from Concordia University in Montreal have designed a power cell that uses blue-green algae to harness electrical technology, which could be used to power smartphones and computers in future.
A team led by Concordia University engineering professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy created a power cell that harnesses electrical energy from the photosynthesis and respiration of blue-green algae.
“Both photosynthesis and respiration, which take place in plants cells, involve electron transfer chains. By trapping the electrons released by blue-green algae during photosynthesis and respiration, we can harness the electrical energy they produce naturally,” said Packirisamy.
Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, are long known to exist everywhere, making it significant for the invention that could potentially provide large amount of energy. These plants were found to be the most prosperous microorganisms on earth, occupying large range of habitats across the world, researchers said. In addition, unlike other renewable energy sources like solar power and wind power, their efficiency doesn’t vary with changes in the weather.
“By taking advantage of a process that is constantly occurring all over the world, we’ve created a new and scalable technology that could lead to cheaper ways of generating carbon-free energy,” said Packirisamy.
Described in a paper published in the journal Technology, the photosynthetic power cell consists of an anode, cathode, and proton exchange membrane. The blue-green algae are placed in the anode chamber, and as they undergo photosynthesis, they release electrons onto the electrode surface. With an external load attached to the cell, it’s possible to extract the electrons and harness power from the device.
According to Packirisamy, the power cell currently can only be used on a small scale, and further improvements are needed for the technology. “We have a lot of work to do in terms of scaling the power cell to make the project commercial,” he said.
So far, the team has measured open-circuit voltage as high as 993 millivolts and obtained a peak power of 175.37 microwatts. The researchers hope the system will one day be powerful enough to run everyday electronic devices, if they can expand on these initial achievements and also would help humanity to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
“In five years, this will be able to power your smart phone,” Packirisamy said.