‘Smart’ leds a more efficient energy source for algae than sunlight

UvA-researchers receive subsidy for photosynthesis study

21 April 2011

Researchers of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) received a subsidy for a pilot study of the possibilities of increasing the efficiency of biological photosynthesis. They will use it to investigate the use of ‘smart’ led lighting as a more efficient energy source for algae than sunlight.

Researchers of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED) received a subsidy for a pilot study of the possibilities of increasing the efficiency of biological photosynthesis. They will use it to investigate the use of ‘smart’ led-lighting as a more efficient energy source than sunlight for algae, and possibly in a later stage also plants in agriculture and horticulture. The pilot study aims to unravel how much more efficient the led-lighting is. The 240.000 euro subsidy was awarded within the framework of the program Towards BioSolar Cells of the FOM foundation and the Earth and Life Sciences division of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Currently only 1% of the solar energy available on Earth is used by algae and plants. However, a doubling of the agricultural production is needed to supply a growing world population with sufficient food and (bio)fuels.

The UvA researchers (Hans Matthijs, Klaas Hellingwerf en Jef Huisman) show that sunlight is far from ideal as an energy source for optimal algal growth. Algae and plants use the process of photosynthesis to convert light to chemical energy to transform carbon dioxide to building blocks for their growth. The smart led lighting uses the possibility to very rapidly switch led lamps in different colours on and off, to produce light that perfectly fits the molecular mechanism of photosynthesis. Much more so than normal sunlight. How much of an efficiency gain can be achieved forms the challenging question of the study that is planned to last 1.5 years.

Future applications

The results of the pilot study will be used to design a larger follow-up project that should lead to led lighting that can be practically applied for algal biomass growth in aquaculture. In addition to direct application in areas where artificial lighting is already used, such as horticulture, eventually this could lead to a sustainable technology much broader in scope. For instance sunlight could be transformed to electricity at places with abundant sunlight but no possibility for direct use in agriculture or horticulture (e.g. the Sahara). The electricity could subsequently be used to power led lighting at other more feasible locations. An additional advantage when compared to regular agriculture is that led-lighting can be used to grow multiple layers of algae/plants above one another. Thus reducing the area needed for agriculture and easing competition for space with natural areas.

Published by  IBED