Ever heard of algae being grown in the dark to create renewable energy? Elizabeth Hann, a doctoral student in plant biology at UCR is heading this innovative project. Her work is being funded by Link Foundation which includes a two-year, $60,000 budget fellowship.
Hann plans to test whether or not she can grow algae for biofuels, totally in the dark using solar-generated electricity. Her work is the first of its kind, with no preliminary work to go off of. She believes that the solar-grown algae could compete with petroleum as the future of fuel if it shows to be efficient.
In an article from Forbes, Hann says, “we can grow algae potentially more efficiently utilizing solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity and use this electricity to power heterographic growth. […] the liquid that the algae grows in fuels this growth, or ‘feeds the algae.'”
Hann and a team of researchers are using algae called Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, which Hann describes as model green algae capable of photosynthesis and heterotrophic growth. If the team relied on just photosynthesis to grow the algae, it would have a 2% efficiency rate but with the solar panels, it jumps to a 25%+ efficiency rate.
Her game plan is to grow the algae in a confined place with direct exposure from the solar panels, rather than using the growth in a pond with the sun. Hann believes her process will be more efficient thus saving them money in the startup process. Instead of needing lots of land for the ponds, they would just need the solar panels combined with an indoor, unlit growing space.
They are hoping that this project will be able shed some light on what algae biofuel is capable of, meeting their expectations or not. Stay tuned!