Using algae to enhance solar energy. Developed by: Swedish Algae Factory

Algae is an underwater plant so abundant, it’s easy to ignore. Yet one-in-four life-sustaining breaths of oxygen come from a group of algae known as diatoms. For every human on the planet, that equals six hours’ worth of daily oxygen intake. That’s because diatoms can trap light efficiently allowing the plant to survive at even the murkiest depths. When Sofie Allert met Angela Wulff, a professor in marine ecology, they came up with a way of leveraging the special properties of diatoms to enhance solar panel efficiencies. 

Some types of algae (diatoms) grow a glass shell that enables efficient photosynthesis. Allert, Wulff and their research team developed a way to extract the glass shell and apply it to the surface of solar panels to enhance performance, increasing efficiency today by up to four percent, with further room for improvement. The material extracted from algae isn’t new—it is millions of years old. But its unique properties are providing benefits to solar energy and other industrial applications. In fact, during the process of producing this material, nutrient-rich wastewater from a fish farm is also treated, and a renewable organic biomass is produced that can be introduced back into the environment, resulting in a “circular” economic business that operates in harmony with nature. 

The application will raise efficiency and lower the cost of solar energy. If this innovation or others like it penetrates 30 percent of the target market by 2027, the global greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 21 million tons of CO2e annually. 

The Swedish Algae Factory is currently working with the European Solar Energy Research Institute with the goal of achieving even greater efficiency enhancement with their material in solar panel applications. The company aims to field test the application with select electricity and solar-panel distributors by 2018. And is building a commercial algae cultivation facility slated to open in 2019. 

Sofie Allert is Swedish Algae Factory’s CEO and has a background in biotechnical engineering and business design.
Angela Wulff, R&D Lead, is a professor in marine ecology at Gothenburg University.
The research and development team also includes Gustav Knutsson, Michael Hedblom and Justin Pearce.