Technische Universität München student Olga Shostak at one of the new LED-bioreactors that enables “exact” simulation of natural sunlight. Photo by: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

Technische Universität München student Olga Shostak at one of the new LED-bioreactors that enables “exact” simulation of natural sunlight. Photo by: Andreas Heddergott/TUM

Phys.org reports that, in collaboration with the Berlin, Germany LED manufacturer FutureLED, scientists at the Technische Universität München have developed a unique combination of light and climate simulation to optimize algae cultivation. “Nobody can really predict whether algae from the tropics will be as productive under German light conditions as in their native environment,” says Thomas Brück, director of the Department of Industrial Biocatalysis at TU München. “Just as nobody knows whether candidates that work here will be equally successful in the light conditions of the Sahara. But now we can test all of these things in our laboratory.”

Spectrum-tuned LEDs are used in the system to simulate the natural spectrum of sunlight. The highly efficient LEDs provide light with wavelengths between 400 and 800 nanometers and a radiation intensity of 1000 watts per square meter with an intensity distribution that very closely models natural sunlight. The various LED types can be controlled individually, allowing the researchers to program specific spectra.

This kind of facility would not have been possible using either incandescent or fluorescent lamps, since incandescent lamps generate too much heat and fluorescent lamps cannot produce the full spectrum of sunlight in the required intensity. Triggering specific, targeted wavelengths is impossible in both of these variants, however the new LED system allows for tuning the spectral bandwidth to the molecular switches that control the growth of algae.