Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



Golden Nanotool Harvests Electricity from Algae

Stanford researchers harvest small electric current from individual algae cells using gold nanoscale probeResearchers at Stanford University have engineered an ultrasharp nanoscale electrode made of gold that can be used to harvest a small electric current from individual algae cells.  In experiments so far, the algae cells survive the intrusion, which could mean that larger electric currents could someday be drawn from entire algae colonies.


Algae have been emerging as the biofuel heroes of a sustainable future and the Stanford development could bring it to a new level, by bypassing the carbon footprint of harvesting plants and processing liquid biofuels.

Golden Nanoscale Electrodes and Photosynthesis

The Stanford research is based on electricity in plants that is produced from photosynthesis, when sunlight energizes the electrons in individual cells.  The electrons then pass through a series of proteins until their energy is spent.  Using the gold nanoscale probe, the Stanford team managed to intercept electrons before a protein could latch on to them.  Because the only byproducts of photosynthesis are protons and oxygen, in effect the process generates power practically without carbon emissions, aside from the energy used to grow algae.  The researchers note that this direct method of harvesting energy from photosynthesis is about 20% efficient and could theoretically achieve 100%.  In comparison, photovoltaic cells are up to 40% efficient, and conventional biofuels only use up to 6% of the solar energy available to the plants that are burned.

Kinder, Gentler Biofuels

The other significant feature of the Stanford research is the preservation of plant life while the energy is being extracted.  Conventional biofuel production involves harvesting plants, and there is an enormous potential for conserving energy if the same plant could be used over and over again.  Researchers at Iowa State University are also on to a process that involves harvesting biofuel from living plants.

Algae, Photosynthesis and Sustainability

In H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, primitive microorganisms emerge as the saviors of a planet under siege by high tech invaders.  In a modern twist, the marriage of technology and microorganisms could help bring greenhouse gas emissions down to a more sustainable level.  Companies like Joule Biotechnologies are also harnessing photosynthetic organisms to create biofuel, and for that matter an algae diet could also help cut greenhouse gas emissions from cows.

Image: Algae by *higetiger on

Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.
Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


#1 most loved electric vehicle, solar energy, and battery news & analysis site in the world.


Support our work today!


Power CleanTechnica: $3/Month

Tesla News Solar News EV News Data Reports


EV Sales Charts, Graphs, & Stats


Our Electric Car Driver Report

30 Electric Car Benefits

Tesla Model 3 Video

Renewable Energy 101 In Depth

solar power facts

Tesla News

EV Reviews

Home Efficiency

You May Also Like

Clean Power

Louisiana is poised to lead global green ammonia revolution if all goes according to plan, Mitch or no Mitch.

Clean Power

Rooftop solar, energy storage, and EV charging are front and center in Ford's plans for its Research & Engineering Center in Dearborn, Michigan --...

Clean Power

Whether or not Minority Leader McConnell is 100% focused on obstructing the Biden agenda, more offshore wind energy jobs are coming to the US.

Clean Power

A gas-and-electric utility dreams of a decarbonized future for the US with an assist from green hydrogen and long duration energy storage.

Copyright © 2021 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.