Amid the global mission to reduce fossil fuel dependence and explore new, renewable energy sources, researchers from Montreal’s Concordia University have blue-green algae as the answer.
Research published in Technology journal introduced the team’s discovery: a power cell harnessing energy from blue-green algae’s photosynthesis as well as respiration.
“Both photosynthesis and respiration … involve electron transfer chains,” said study lead and engineering professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy, explaining that humans can get the energy the algae naturally produce when they trap the electrons they release.
And such algae are everywhere, making them a sound, sustainable option.
Blue-green algae, also identified as cyanobacteria, are the top microorganisms on the planet when it comes to abundance. They live in so many habitats and have been around for so long, with early biology owing their makeup to these algae that create the oxygen needed for higher life forms to thrive.
Packirisamy believed it’s high time to take advantage of this constantly occurring process. “[W]e’ve created a new and scalable technology that could lead to cheaper ways of generating carbon-free energy," he said.
The invention is currently in early-stage development: the power cell remains on a small scale, consisting of a membrane for anode, cathode, and proton exchange, and with the anode chamber housing the algae.
As photosynthesis occurs, the blue green algae provide electrons to the electrode surface, which is then extracted by an external load connected to the unit.
The study lead, who is seeking to patent the technology, added that energy harvesting from algae could be performed round-the-clock, unlike in traditional solar power processes that do not work at nighttime. To get algae energy to the current position of solar energy, however, would entail waiting over a decade.
But they have plenty of work ahead in scaling the power cell to launch commercial production. Packirisamy hoped these power cells will be applied in areas that include powering mobile phones, estimated to be done in five years.
World leaders are now preparing to gather in the Paris climate change conference next week, where reducing carbon emissions and exploring renewable energy would be critical touchpoints.
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