The Swedish Algae Factory team has discovered a way to harness the low-light capacity of diatoms to increase the efficiency of solar panels.

Camille Charluet writes in about Swedish Algae Factory, a self-proclaimed “visionary algae lab,” that works with a specific strain of diatom algae that can endure and multiply in the grim low-light, low-temperature conditions of the Nordic sea and has a set of remarkable abilities.

The outer shell of the algae allows it to absorb light very efficiently, enabling it to survive in harsh conditions. CEO Sofie Allert and her team discovered a way to harness this capacity to increase the efficiency of solar panels. “Basically, what we do, is that we extract a material from algae that is designed by over a 100 million years of evolution to secure the survival of a specific algae group.”

“The material constitutes the shell of a microscopic algae group called diatoms,” she says. “This nanoporous silica material is naturally designed to trap visible light extremely efficiently in order to secure that the algae photosynthesize even when there is not that much light present.”

A light-absorbing layer of this material is spread evenly over silicon solar panels, or over the encapsulant layer under the glass. This layer makes the panels less reflective, meaning more sunlight gets through to the solar cells, thus making them more efficient.

The solution can be added to existing solar panels as well for enhancement of their efficiency, but also works with newer solar tech known as Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSC). Both types see significant improvements in performance with the added algae layer.

This environmentally friendly process increases standard solar panel efficiency by over four percent, but the team is continuously looking for ways to improve their methods. Ms. Albert explained that existing solar panels are getting close to their maximum efficiency, so to overcome this issue, the team also tested their methods on DSSC, that are expected to be released in Europe in 2020. By incorporating their material in the light trapping titanium dioxide layer of the DSSC panels, the team managed to increase these panel’s efficiency by a massive 60 percent.

Working with the European Solar Energy Research Institute, the Swedish startup plans to trial their technology on select solar panel distributors in 2018 and aims to build their first algae cultivation facility by 2019. Their vision is to establish one hundred Swedish Algae Factories globally by 2030.

Read More