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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article19 October 2022European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency1 min read

Using algae for better solar energy performance

LIFE17 CCM/SE/000050. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

In Sweden, LIFE SUNALGAE has inaugurated a pilot facility to mass produce a revolutionary material that improves solar panel efficiency. 

Solar energy uptake in Europe is expensive and inefficient, and its uptake has relied chiefly on government regulations and incentive programmes. A solution to boost demand is needed. 

The LIFE SUNALGAE team is demonstrating a new and innovative algae material that can enhance the efficiency of silicon-based and thin-film solar panels.  

Project coordinator Swedish Algae Factory makes the material, called ‘algica’, by cultivating diatoms – single-celled photosynthesising algae – and extracting the silica shells for use in different applications. 

The shells have unique light-manipulating properties that can potentially boost silicon solar panel efficiency by at least 4% and dye-sensitised solar cells by up to 36%. They should also reduce the degradation of solar panels over time caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation since diatom shells block UV light.  

The team estimates a 3.9 % cost reduction compared to current state-of-the-art solar panels. 

Algica can also be used to make more sustainable personal care products. In fact, the project team recently developed and sold a special algica face soap together with a local partner.  

And as the material comes from the shells of organically grown algae, it is safe for oceans and sea life.  

The production process is circular as it uses recycled nutrients from a land-based fish farm. 

The team previously grew 30 kg of the material per year in a greenhouse. The new facility will be able to cultivate 500 kg per year and, subsequently, 1 000 kg per year. This enables the team to start selling material to the solar energy sector. 

Swedish Algae Factory previously won an international competition that rewards products, services and technologies which combine sustainability, entrepreneurship and creativity. 

Their ultimate goal is to become the world-leading producer of advanced materials from algae and a driving force toward a circular and bio-based industry. 

LIFE SUNALGAE is in line with the EU Solar Energy Strategy adopted this year as part of the REPowerEU plan. The project also supports the EU’s Circular Economy Action Plan.