Solar Lighting System: Optimizing Photosynthesis for Microalgae Cultivation

Problem

Microalgae cultivation holds great promise for carbon biosequestration and the production of high value–added biomolecules, bioenergy, and more. Although microalgae cultivation in outdoor ponds using natural sunlight is the ultimate green technology, its effectiveness is limited by the amount of natural sunlight available and the level of photosynthetic efficiency.

Two types of solutions are currently available: raceway ponds and closed systems. Raceway ponds are inexpensive to set up but suffer from reduced photosynthetic efficiency. Closed systems (tubes, panels, etc.) are more efficient but also more costly, and introduce new challenges in terms of gas flow and transfer, for example. Centre de Recherche Industrielle du Québec (CRIQ) has partnered with INO to develop a solution to optimize algae growth in open ponds.

  • "V" Shaped Optical Element
  • Solar Light Reactor

Solution

INO has developed dedicated optical elements (patent pending) that draw on a very simple, low-cost design to boost the photosynthetic efficiency of microalgae. Taking a systems approach, the optics are installed in the open pond to capture and distribute sunlight at depth to greatly improve productivity. This approach is easy to use in open ponds and provides a significant boost in productivity versus closed systems.

The key to the system’s success is INO’s expertise in developing optical elements featuring the characteristics and performance required by a given application. We drew on a range of core strengths and specialized expertise, including our extensive knowledge of lighting requirements for photosynthesis, our understanding of the characteristics of solar radiation (including weather phenomena), and our optical systems modelling, fabrication, and testing capabilities.

This solution was developed for applications that require a positive carbon balance and have stringent cost/performance requirements similar to those for biodiesel production, for instance. It also offers clear benefits for applications that use microalgae to produce biomolecules and can be easily adapted for and incorporated into existing ponds, and even closed systems.

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