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Photobioreactor Will Provide Cheap and Efficient Energy Storage


Algae-based biofuel research was granted $910,000 to develop a bioreactor that will deliver light and collect fuel. The winning team from Cornell University consists of David Erickson, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Largus Angenent, associate professor of biological and environmental engineering. The generous sponsors are the US Department of Energy (DOE), who fund 66 projects this year.

The aim of the project is to develop the concept of an ultra-compact biofuel-producing microalgae photobioreactor. The idea is to adopt the natural process of photosynthesis and use blue-green algae to convert carbon dioxide to biofuel.

The photobioreactor should act as a low-cost light source for the algae growing. In addition it will have light-guiding sheets and it will store energy through tiny porous tubes. It will use minimal amount of water while delivering the ideal amount of sunlight.

Existing technologies have high water and energy consumption and are characterized by poor distribution of light inside the reactor, which affects the concentration of the organisms.

The team is hoping that they can optimize the use of each individual element in the reactor. Although Erikson and Angenent rely on already produced technological components, they are also conducting economic analysis in order to prepare for future commercialization of their product.

The project is a promising stop forward towards meeting the high demands for biofuel production, which is expected to grow rapidly in the next few decades. This innovative concept was initially funded by Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future in 2010.

Now thanks to ARPA-E funds, the project has the chance to become finally realized.

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