Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a new design of algae-powered fuel cells that is five times more efficient than existing plant and algal models. It is considered potentially more cost-effective to produce and practical to use.
How Biophotovoltaics Produce Electricity
Along with synthetic photovoltaic devices, biophotovoltaics (BPVs, also known as biological solar-cells) have emerged as an environmentally-friendly and low-cost approach to harvesting solar energy. They use the photosynthetic properties of microorganisms such as algae to convert light into electricity. In BPVs there are two processes taking place in a single unit or compartment:
- charging (light harvesting and electron generation) and
- power delivery (transfer to the electrical circuit)
The new technology developed by Researchers at the University of Cambridge uses genetically-modified algae with mutations that lower the amount of electric charge released nonproductively during photosynthesis. It also separates the aforementioned processes for electricity production into two separate chambers, providing for more efficiency and optimised performance of the power delivery unit.
Though five times more efficient than last design, the new BPV is still not only about one-tenth as efficient as silicon solar cells. But they possess some benefits over synthetic photovoltaic devices. They are cheaper to produce and can be literally homegrown. “…Because algae grow and divide naturally, systems based on them may require less energy investment and can be produced in a decentralized fashion,” says Professor Christopher Howe from the Department of Biochemistry. The dual chamber design allows for the storage of electricity for when sunlight is not available.
The new algae-powered fuel cells may be particularly useful in areas such as rural Africa, with abundant sunlight but no existing electric grid system.
A new design of algae-powered fuel cells that is five times more efficient than existing plant and algal models, as well as being potentially more cost-effective to produce and practical to use, has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge.