Scientists turn to algae for clean energy

Scientists are turning to algae to harness clean energy in what could be a breakthrough in green-energy technology in the fight against climate change, although mass-market applications would take years to materialise, new research suggests.

According to a Concordia University engineering professor who is leading the research, the technology utilised the process of photosynthesis by algae, one of the most common microorganisms on earth.

Algae creates electrons naturally during photosynthesis, and metal probes can be stuck into the plant to capture harness the energy by transferring it into electricity for batteries, he said on Wednesday.

The new technology had immense potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he added.

''In five years, this will be able to power your smart phone,'' Thomson Reuters Foundation quoted Muthukumaran Packirisamy as saying.

Both photosynthesis and respiration, which occurred in plant cells, involve electron transfer chains. ''By trapping the electrons released by blue-green algae during photosynthesis and respiration, we can harness the electrical energy they produce naturally,'' Packirisamy reported.

The photosynthetic power cell comprised an anode, a cathode, and proton exchange membrane. With the algae placed in the anode chamber, the process of photosynthesis, released electrons onto the electrode surface. An external load attached to the cell, makes it possible to extract the electrons and harness power from the device.

''By taking advantage of a process that is constantly occurring all over the world, we've created a new and scalable technology that could lead to cheaper ways of generating carbon-free energy,'' said Packirisamy.

However, the technology was still in its early development stage, and a lot of work had to be done in terms of scaling the power cell to make the concept commercially viable.