HOW TO MAKE SOLAR PANELS BETTER? ADD ALGAE.


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Mexican startup Greenfluidics has turned algae farms into solar panels.

The company is expanding a concept introduced in Germany in 2013 by Splitterwerk Architects and building firm Arup.

The two put flat glass tanks, resembling solar panels, on the outside of a building. The tanks are filled with green algae.

The algae are fed carbon dioxide drawn from a nearby waste source, such as a smokestack. The algae then exhale oxygen while they grow and reproduce.

A portion of the algae is harvested periodically and turned into biomass fuel that then is burned to power the building’s water heaters. Heat from the panels is captured by a heat exchanger and also is channeled to water heaters.

The panels cut the building’s hot water cost by about a third.

Good so far. But Greenfluidics has made it better.

The company has added carbon nanoparticles to the tanks’ water, boosting the panels’ ability to capture heat. The heat is drawn off the undersides of the panels and turned directly into electricity using a thermoelectric generator, meeting a portion of the building’s overall power needs.

A slew of questions remain, though, including how often the glass-topped algae tanks need to be cleaned, the cost of harvesting and reprocessing the algae for other uses, and whether the energy efficiencies and production Greenfluidics reports are verifiable; critics have expressed skepticism.

TRENDPOST: Whether this innovation will ever be ready for prime time remains to be seen.

However, at the least, it can inspire other innovators to ponder ways to combine production of energy and biomass in a self-enhancing closed loop.

Greenfluidics’ innovation would turn rooftop algae farms into energy harvesters.

Photo: Greenfluidics

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