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Diatoms as solar panels for DIAFUEL production

A project carried out by Prof. Vandana Vinayak, School of Applied Sciences, Dr. Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalaya, Sagar (M.P.) at NCPRE under PUMP

The current scenario in Middle East could be bad state of affairs for India’s economy. India is world’s 3rd largest consumer of crude oil which meets more than 80% of its oil requirements and 40% of its natural gas via imports. If India had its own oil reservoirs it would be easier to sustain its economy. Even though India started to switch to electric vehicles by 2030 but it has been a slow start and crude oil requirements can’t be replaced at par by electricity in all. If India starts making its own oil via biofuel at large scale at low costs it could revolutionize the energy requirements not only for itself but also for other countries. Therefore India needs to focus more on its energy production via alternate measures and biofuel from algae. Among algae diatom are definitely a rescue if cost of production of biofuel from diatoms also known as diafuel is reduced.

If oil could have been milked from diatoms without killing or crushing or extracting them; just like milk is harvested from cows, the cost of production of oil could be brought down. To meet this requirement we fabricated a miniature diatom solar panel on a 2” silicon wafer as well as designed a metabolically engineered diatom in dye sensitized solar cell which produced electricity as well as diafuel. Among these it was found that our miniature diatom solar panel harvested oil with almost zero energy. The device worked effortlessly under the resonance energy gained by micro pillars in the miniature solar panel. Inspired with this work at IIT Bombay we made a bench top diatom solar panel and processed for its patent. The idea of a diatom solar panel for diafuel production is keeping diatoms in their nutrient medium exposing them to sunlight with no external source of artificial energy so as to run the system for resonance energy. This will not only encourage Indian scientist to improve alternate ways of energy source but will also make India independent of crude oil dependence onto foreign countries. The major advantages of diafuel (diatom biofuel) from diatoms are direct production of ‘petrol” lipid in diatom solar panels. Diatom solar panels unlike the normal solar panels are individual diatom cell factories which harvest oil. This also explains why there would not be any need to replace automobile engines with electricity driven lithium ion batteries. Since petrol products are interchangeable, no brownouts due to electric vehicles causing electric grid shortages would occur. Also the production of the lipid energy is off the grid and petrol vehicles would remain the majority and no need for short-lived, expensive, heavy, polluting lead batteries to store solar energy may be required.

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Prof. Vandana