Sweden-based start-up Swedish Algae Factory has developed a new material, called Algica, to improve the efficiency of silicon and thin film solar panels. As part of their Sunalgae Life project, the team cultivates single-celled photosynthesizing algae called diatoms to extract their shells, which reportedly have unique light-manipulating properties, including blocking ultraviolet (UV) light.
The shells are then added to the encapsulant of silicon modules or to the anti-reflective coating on the glass of thin film modules, which the Swedish team claims could boost their efficiency by 4% and 36%, respectively. These enhancements were “measured in indicative flash tests performed by external institutes,” including the Chalmers University of Technology, according to the team’s website.
The algae shells should also reduce the degradation of solar panels over time caused by UV radiation. The team estimates the resulting modules would be 3.9% cheaper compared to currently commercialized panels.
The Sunalgae Life project required a €4 ($3.99) million investment, partly awarded by the European Union. One of its goals is to commercialize the algae material for use in solar panels. The team has now inaugurated a pilot facility in Sweden to mass produce the material. The new facility is expected to cultivate 500 kg per year and subsequently 1,000 kg per year. Until now, the team has cultivated 30 kg per year in a greenhouse.
“Material produced from the facility will [be] tested for repeatable efficiency enhancement in solar panels,” the project website says. The team claims the production process is circular. “The material is produced in an environmentally friendly process where water is cleaned, valuable nutrients are recycled, carbon dioxide is absorbed, and a valuable sustainable organic biomass is also produced.”
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