Martí-Franquès COFUND Fellowship Programme


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Engineering and Architecture

Supervisor name and surname:

Ioanis Katakis

Supervisor email:

Supervisor short biography

PhD programme:

Nanoscience, Materials and Chemical Engineering

Title of the research project:

Microalgae-Based Direct Photovoltaic Biofuel Cells for the Integrated Biorefinery

Description of the research project:

Humanity must find an alternative to the use of fossil hydrocarbons (FHC) for chemicals and energy production. It should be amenable for integration in circular economy concepts and use a renewable source that has the technological potential to substitute the current FHC-based production model. Solar energy is the only such source. Biomass exploitation through biorefineries appears to be the most sustainable solution. Algae biorefineries do not compete with food and land needs. However, neither energy return on investment nor economics are favourable. Waste-based integrated algae biorefineries seem to provide a viable answer. Still, the state of the art does not provide complete modularity of such processes. One of the roadblocks is the lack of capacity for production of enough bioelectricity to satisfy (at least) the process’ needs for electrical power. This project aims to resolve this bottleneck by developing efficient Biophotovoltaic fuel cells (BPFC). Its hypothesis is that high electron transfer fluxes can be achieved by engineering biocompatible electrode/algae interfaces.
The objectives of the project are to:
- Survey algae-modified electrode surface pairs to identify determinants that promote type IV pili formation.
- Use said determinants knowledge to produce low cost bioanodes that result in large scale BPFCs.
- Optimise operation conditions of BPFC-based bioreactors.
- Implement pilot plant scale optimised processes.
- Develop a predictive model for the new unit operation.
The project allows a significant scientific and technological breakthrough to be reached if direct electrochemical communication between electrodes and growing algae is achieved: in this manner electrical power could be directly harvested from growing cells. Only after 2005 researchers started studying this possibility [1]. Even today, the majority of the efforts are based on indirect electron transfer from the cells (through electron mediators in configurations that have little industrial interest) and only a handful of demonstrations of direct electron transfer (see [2] for an example) have been published. Still, only about a third of the theoretical biophotovoltaic photochemical conversion efficiency has been achieved, and the electron transfer mechanism is very poorly understood. Our aim in the project is to incorporate these electrodes in BPFCs and improve by at least two-fold the current state of the art efficiency. Our hypothesis is that such efficiency is improved if cells are made to grow electron conducting pili that facilitate this electron transfer in algae. We will elucidate the mechanism of induction and as a result will be able to achieve direct communication with appropriately modified electrodes that we will incorporate in BPFCs.
1. McCormick, A.J., et al.; Biophotovoltaics: oxygenic photosynthetic organisms ..., Energy Environ. Sci. 8:1092-109 (2015).
2. Pisciotta, J.M., et al.; Light-dependent electrogenic ..., PLoSONE. 10:e10821 (2010).

Gross anual salary:

26443.80 €


Full time

Working hours:

37.5 hours a week

Expected start date:

European union This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 713679