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Solar panels able to capture carbon dioxide and produce energy from biomass? That’s the challenge faced by a Mexican start-up, Greenfluidics, which has designed panels made up of microalgae bioreactors and nanofluids. These bio panels will be able to generate up to 328 kWh/m2 per year and will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 200 kilograms per year. It is also found to be 90% biodegradable. This versatile technology, unique in the world, can make it possible to achieve significant energy savings.
Unlike photovoltaic panels, Greenfluidics bio panels not only produce energy. They also contribute to the fight against global warming thanks to an integrated CO2 capture process: the microalgae trapped in the plates act like any plant in the sun, absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen by photosynthesis. ” We believe in producing solutions for a new world energy order, where energy is part of a larger solution for our environment He said to Mexico Business News Miguel Mayorga, CEO of Greenfluidics.
The nanofluids in the panels – made up of carbon nanoparticles – absorb solar radiation; The heat is then used to produce the biomass or converted into an electric current. This technology has the advantage of being scalable (the CEO specifies that it is necessary and possible in particular to adapt the microalgae to each country) and portable: the panels can be installed on any type of structure where it can be exposed to sunlight. They can even be installed as windows.
Hot water circuit that burns biomass
The concept is not entirely new. In 2013, Splitterwerk Architects and engineering firm Arup teamed up to build the world’s first building in Hamburg with bioreactor facades. This apartment building, called BIQ, with 200 square meters of microalgae panels, produces biomass and heat as renewable energy sources.
Concretely, BIQ panels capture carbon dioxide from an emitting source, and then inject that gas into water containing strains of algae. As these plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, their mass increases – the more they are exposed to solar radiation, the faster these algae grow, capturing more carbon dioxide than ever before.
These panels also retain heat in their waters; Heat and biomass are collected in a closed circuit to be stored, and then used to produce hot water. The generated biomass is processed into biofuels, which is then returned to the building where it feeds the hot water system circuit. According to its designers, BIQ can cover nearly a third of its energy needs related to water heating.
In addition, these panels installed outside also shade the building, which greatly reduces the energy consumption of air conditioning in the summer. The system also includes additional features such as thermal insulation and noise reduction, bringing out the full potential of this technology. Despite this potential, it is clear that the technology has not been widely exploited since then. Created in 2018, Greenfluidics has taken an interest in this technology and today presents a new concept of biomodules.
Carbon to increase thermal conductivity
Greenfluidics technology is primarily characterized by thermal capture and transfer processes. Its panels are based on carbon-based nanofluids, which are added to water to increase its thermal conductivity. This water circulates on one side of the plate, while micro-algae are grown on the other side. Heat is converted directly into electricity by a thermoelectric generator – just like traditional solar panels.
Another advantage of these panels lies in their design: according to their designers, they can take on different sides, very aesthetic, and perfectly fit into modern architecture. Greenfluidics also claims that the shading effect provided by its panels will provide “up to 90 kWh/m2 » Every year in terms of conditioning.
After testing the first panels in real conditions last year, the startup was able to test its technology in different regions of the world. She now hopes to commercialize these panels, primarily to industries that emit a lot of carbon dioxide as well as to the agricultural sector — which could use microalgae as a bio-fertilizer for the soil.
This concept is promising, but many questions remain unanswered, starting with the longevity of these panels. There is also the issue of maintenance and cleaning, or even the green light that goes on inside the buildings. Moreover, is it possible to find strains of algae that live all year round and in all climates?
Not forgetting that this type of installation represents a certain cost: for BIQ, these bio-boards doubled the cost of the facade by 10! Is this investment really offset by the savings in terms of electrical energy? Are these panels more efficient than traditional solar panels with good insulation? If the startup indicates that its panels could theoretically generate up to 328 kWh/m per year2widespread use will only confirm that this technology is economically viable (or not).