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Algae Powered

University of Cambridge researchers have shown that genetically engineered algae can power bio-solar cells, Digital Trends reports.

The researchers detail in Nature Energy that they spatially separated the power storage and delivery functions of their biophotovoltaic device and also developed cyanobacteria with an increased ability to export electrons. In particular, they modified Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 cells to harbor mutations in genes involved in electron transfer activity. In this way, they report boosting the anodic power density of their device to five times that of others.

"It's been known for some time that photosynthetic microorganisms — single-celled algae — produce small amounts of electrons, stimulated by light, that can be harvested by electrodes to produce a current," co-author Chris Howe of Cambridge tells Digital Trends.

However, Digital Trends notes that despite this increase in power, the bio-solar cells still lag behind conventional solar fuel cells, producing only about a tenth of their power. Despite that gap, Howe says there might still be a use for their cells, as they are cheaper to make and can produce energy at night, though he notes that work to scale their system up needs to be done.