Novel combination ensures entire solar spectrum harnessed

Aug 28, 2013 by Jason Boudville
Open microalgal ponds like this could be situated underneath solar panels in the new approach which willl maximise solar conversion in less space. Credit: Texas A&M Agrilife

Murdoch University researchers have dramatically increased the conversion efficiency of solar energy by the novel pairing of algae biomass and selective thin film solar panels.

By modelling different translucent solar panel wavelength absorbencies and situating ponds beneath the panels, researchers were able to find algae species which thrived in the resulting 'unused' solar spectrum.

Photosynthesis only uses part of the solar spectrum within the range of 400–700nm (mostly blue and red spectrum) and translucent can be designed to absorb the spectrum outside these parameters to produce electricity.

Algae R&D Centre and School of Veterinary and Life Science's Dr Navid Moheimani says while the purpose of the design is to capture the entire light spectrum, a secondary outcome was also a reduction in algae pond evaporation.

"Considering the shortage of freshwater in WA, we can only use seawater in our algae cultivation ponds for filling the pond and evaporative make up," he says.

The solar panels and ponds are likely to be situated in WA's north-west, one of the world's best areas for solar production, however evaporation rates average at 3200mm per year.

"Evaporation will result in an increase in salinity over time [100 days to increase the salinity by four-fold in the pond] and limit the number of potential species for cultivation.

"[Hence] being able to control this by removing infra red light would allow us to grow several other species of microalgae."

Researchers were also able to model different solar-algae configurations, like using produced electricity to make up the essential red portion of the solar spectrum with LED lighting—this increasing the potential by 16.5 per cent.

By making dual use for energy production per unit of land, it is hoped the biomass created can provide feedstock, biofuel or even food for human consumption.

Dr Moheimani says while it will take more research and development to find algae-appropriate wavelength absorbencies for solar panels, it could soon replace other production systems.

"Suitably tailored thin film photovoltaic devices [or collectors] could also be used in solar greenhouses or even market gardens."

"By only converting the parts of the not required by the algae [or plants] into electricity, the biomass would continue to grow," he says.

Dr Moheimani envisages in the next three-to-five years the research team will have a prototype ready for the market.

Explore further: GE takes stake in First Solar; to share technology (Update)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

An alga stressed by the light

Aug 27, 2013

During the summers of 2010 and 2011, the UPV/EHU's Bentos Marino group analysed samples of algae populations from five zones and measured the amount of light present in and the temperature of each zone over ...

Increasing efficiency of hydrogen production from green algae

Apr 15, 2013

New research results from Uppsala University, Sweden, instill hope of efficient hydrogen production with green algae being possible in the future, despite the prevailing scepticism based on previous research. The study, which ...

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

9 hours ago

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

9 hours ago

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

Wireless power transfer achieved at five-meter distance

9 hours ago

The way electronic devices receive their power has changed tremendously over the past few decades, from wired to non-wired. Users today enjoy all kinds of wireless electronic gadgets including cell phones, ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Cloustonenergy
not rated yet Aug 28, 2013
I must question the cost effectiveness of this. The solar spectrum peaks around the 400 nm area and some of that is used to make the sky blue. What is the bandgap of the photovoltaic modules? Silicon has a bandgap of 1.1eV. I remain skeptical but interested in learning of the details.
dirk_bruere
not rated yet Aug 28, 2013
Between 480-500nm

More news stories

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...