Scientists Discover Algae as Potential New Source of Green Energy for IoT Devices: Science: Tech Times

Scientists from Concordia University have demonstrated a new, sustainable energy source that could power small Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The technology harnesses the power of algae to create a microphotosynthetic energy cell, a small device capable of generating electricity through photosynthesis and respiration (via TechXplore).

What is a microphotosynthetic energy cell?

A microphotosynthetic power cell (µPSC) is a miniature power cell that uses living photosynthetic organisms, such as algae, to produce energy. These cells use the natural processes of photosynthesis, in which algae convert sunlight into energy, and respiration, in which they consume oxygen. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, over 100,000 species of algae can convert sunlight into energy.

The result is a green and sustainable energy source that not only produces electricity but also absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making it a carbon negative technology.

The primary goal of the study, conducted by the Optical-Bio Microsystems Lab at Concordia University, was to better understand and improve the performance of microphotosynthetic power cells in real-world applications.

The research team’s goal was to develop and validate a theoretical model that predicts the operation of these energy cells in various configurations and conditions.

Read also: Algae bloom worries Australian beachgoers!

(Photo: LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)
People walk on Grandville beach covered in toxic green algae in Hillion, near Saint-Brieuc in northwestern France, July 10, 2019. Fifty years after its appearance, green algae continues to spark anger and associations calling for stricter measures.

Algal energy: important findings

Scientists have created a biologically inspired electrical model of microphotosynthetic power cell systems to predict their electrical behavior. This model was then tested with real µPSC arrays to ensure its accuracy.

By comparing the model’s predictions of current-voltage (IV) and current-power (IP) characteristics with experimental results, the team could verify the model’s effectiveness.

The study found that connecting microphotosynthetic power cells in both series and parallel configurations is the most effective way to achieve the desired voltage and current levels. This configuration ensures that the energy cells can efficiently power low- and ultra-low-power devices such as IoT sensors and small electronic gadgets.

With a deeper understanding and model validation, researchers can now design microphotosynthetic power cell systems that reliably power small devices in real time. These advances are particularly important in applications such as environmental monitoring and wearable electronics.

Zero-emission technology

Microphotosynthetic power cells consist of two chambers, one containing algae in solution (anode) and the other containing potassium ferricyanide (cathode), separated by a membrane.

Photosynthesis in algae generates electrons that flow across the membrane, producing an electric current. Interestingly, this current production persists even in low light conditions.

According to Dr. Kirankumar Kuruvinashetti, this technology is not only zero-emission, but actively removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, with the only by-product being water.

Currently, single microphotosynthetic power cells produce a maximum voltage of 1.0 V. However, Professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy envisions a future where this technology will evolve into a practical, economical and clean energy source thanks to artificial intelligence-based research and advances.

It highlights the ecological nature of these cells, emphasizing the use of biocompatible polymers and the lack of harmful substances often used in the traditional production of photovoltaic cells. This makes them easily decomposable and cost-effective to produce.

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