Optic Lens Discovery could be a Game-Changer

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A Simple Technion Invention Could Help 2.5 Billion People — and NASA

Technion researchers have developed a way to make optical lenses in a cost-effective way. It’s an innovation that could be a game-changer for 2.5 billion people. It could transform space research. And it all started with a whiteboard and a marker.

Although eyeglasses are cheap to make, in many parts of the world, they’re hard to come by. Yet without glasses, children find themselves struggling to follow along in the classroom. Adults lose their jobs because their vision has deteriorated so badly.

Faculty of Mechanical Engineering members Professor Moran Bercovici and Dr. Valeri Frumkin became obsessed with this problem. How could they make lenses more affordable?

They started by drawing a lens on their whiteboard. They knew they could take polymers, solidified liquids, and make rounded domes with them to create lenses. But liquids maintain a spherical shape only at small volumes. The larger the liquid becomes, the more gravity flattens it into a puddle.

But, Bercovici and Frumkin realized, if you make the lens inside a liquid chamber, you can make the sphere as big as you need, without the influence of gravity flattening it. As an added bonus, their method creates lenses in a completely waste-free process, while removing the need to polish the lenses. The lenses coming out of Bercovici and Frumkin’s lab have a surface roughness of less than a nanometer, one billionth of a meter. Compare that to traditional optical lenses, which have a surface roughness of 100 nanometers, or even the mirrors on NASA’s Webb Telescope, which have a surface roughness of 20 nanometers!

Prof. Moran Bercovici

The researchers note that the materials required to make lenses using this process are easily found online for just a few dollars. While they used UV rays to harden the lenses in their lab, they posit lenses could be hardened just as effectively in the sun. This will allow their technique to be used in less developed regions that lack the laboratory infrastructure Israel and the United States have.

“Our fantasy is to create an impact in countries with minimal resources,” Bercovici told Haaretz. “Just as in the well-known proverb, I don’t want to give them fish, I want to teach them how to fish. With this method, people will be able to make their own glasses.”

Dr. Valeri Frumkin

From Someone’s Face — to Space

The team has ambitions beyond optical lenses. They believe their method could also be used to develop complex optical components, which are used in pilot helmets, augmented reality systems, advanced projector systems, and elsewhere.

The manufacture of these complex optical components is expensive and time consuming, limiting their use.  Bercovici and Frumkin’s method could reduce the cost and production time dramatically.

And NASA has already inquired about whether the team could create a very, very large lens — for their space telescopes. Current telescopic power is limited by the size of the lenses we can produce. With this latest development from the Technion, NASA researchers could be able to see exoplanets — planets outside our solar system, only visible with telescopes about ten times bigger than the most powerful ones we have today.

It may take a long time before we can see those exoplanets, but the Technion is already working on it. In late December, a lens making system developed by the team at Bercovici’s lab will be sent to the International Space Station to begin experimentation.

A NASA spokesperson told Haaretz, “the approach could lead to other space applications as well, such as in-space manufacturing of high-quality optical components for energy collection and transmission, scientific instruments, and medical devices — thus playing an important role in the emerging space economy.”

Prize Winning Food Tech

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Technion Students Win European Food Tech Solutions Prize – Again!

Students of the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering served up creative and tasty innovations to win top prizes in the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Food Solutions Project — the latest in a string of victories in EU-supported competitions. This year’s competition was aimed at finding delicious and sustainable real-world solutions to problems faced by the food industry.

“We overcame many challenges on the way from taste and texture to product safety,” said Bioat team members, all Technion graduate students. “We are proud of the result and happy to contribute to the global challenge of developing sustainable substitutes for dairy products.” The concept for the product came about when one of the team members was on maternity leave and looking for dairy-free alternatives while nursing her new baby.

The BIOAT GROUP

The Bioat Group won first place for a challenge presented by Finnish company Myllyn Paras to create an innovative product using an oat-based ingredient. The students developed a vegan “labane” (a cheese-like spread common in Israel) made from fermented oats and dietary fiber. The team was not only awarded first place by the professional judges, but also came in first in the crowd favorite category.

The CRACKEAT Group

Two other Technion teams won first and third place in the FoodFE (Food for the Elderly) challenge, in which students designed foods that addressed issues facing the elderly such as obesity, diabetes, loss of taste, and nutritional requirements. The CRACKEAT Group took first place for a soy-based, creamy treat with a crisp cookie on top. Judges praised the treat for its taste, texture, and environmentally friendly packaging, not to mention health attributes. The product is high in protein and fiber, low in saturated fat, and sugar-free.

The Lite Delight Team

The Lite Delight team came in third for its chewy, brownie-like cake bar with a winning ginger-orange flavor. Judges lauded the bar for its soft, fluffy texture, and sweet taste, achieved with no added sugar.

In addition to getting the recipe just right, the winning teams needed to ace such details as product development, market research, and the business plan. “This win wraps up a whole year of hard work,” said faculty mentors Dr. Maya Davidovich-Pinhas and Professors Uri Lesmes and Avi Shpigelman. “This achievement demonstrates the excellence of students not only in the engineering and technological aspects, but also in their ability to deal with all aspects of the (marketing and manufacturing) process.”

Students from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering also won first place in 2018 with their spirulina-enriched falafel, Algalafel, and first place in 2020 for a biological solution to prevent fruit juice from spoiling.

Removing Toxic Pollutants from Drinking Water

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Technion researchers have developed a fast and efficient technology for removing toxic pollutants from drinking water

Dr. Adi Radian

Researchers from the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed an innovative technology for removing dangerous pollutants from drinking water. The technology efficiently removes and destroys synthetic organo-fluorine chemical compounds (PFAS) very efficiently. The research was headed by Dr. Adi Radian and her post-doctoral student Dr. Samapti Kundu and was published in the Chemical Engineering Journal.

PFAS is a family of problematic pollutants also known as “forever chemicals” because of their chemical stability and environmental persistence. These substances can be found in a large range of products, including Teflon pan coating, fire-fighting foam, flame retardants, and water repellent additives. They reach the groundwater in various ways, including agricultural irrigation using treated wastewater and fire-fighting substances seeping into the soil. As a result of their chemical stability, they remain intact in the ground for a long time, leading to extensive contamination of drinking sources, which in turn significantly increases human exposure.

Image: Depiction of how the system works: 1. The pollutants are separated from the water and confined to the surface of the clay-polymer composite; 2. The pollutants are oxidized to create non-toxic substances (water, CO2, and fluoride ions); 3. The system is regenerated, and at the end of the oxidation process, a new cycle of removal and degradation can begin.

International studies have demonstrated the many health risks posed by exposure to PFAS, including cancer, heart and liver disease, fertility problems, birth defects, and damage to the immune system. Consequently, Israel has begun monitoring these substances. In fact, last summer the extraction of potable water in the Krayiot region was stopped following the discovery of a high PFAS concentration.

Dr. Samapti Kundu

Today, removing these substances from drinking water is accomplished through relatively simple and inexpensive adsorption techniques. However, these methods are not sufficiently efficient, and, most importantly, they only transfer the pollutants from the water to the adsorbent material – which requires additional purification steps to get rid of the toxic adsorbed substances. Furthermore, these methods are not selective: they can also remove substances that are essential for people’s health.

There are two new and promising solutions: using oxidation processes and using targeted polymers that efficiently adsorb the polluting substances. Yet, until now these technologies have not exhibited satisfactory results.

The new research examined the possibility of combining these two methods – separating the pollutants with special polymers, and then using advanced oxidation processes to eliminate them. The findings indicate that proper planning leads to high efficiency under a wide range of acidity (pH) and salinity. The method depicted in the article shows the removal of seven types of PFAS – even when all of them are found in the same unit of fluid – at a level of efficiency that approaches 90%, and it does so within a few minutes.

The system described in the article is based on natural materials that are both safe and inexpensive. The researchers used ubiquitous soil minerals – iron oxides and clays, together with cyclodextrin polymers. The clay-iron-polymer composites act as accelerators that confine the PFAS on the surface and then accelerate the oxidation process that destroys the pollutants into non-toxic substances (fluoride ions, water, and carbon dioxide). This combination efficiently removes the PFAS and does not release unwanted substances in water used for drinking.

In their article, the researchers show that this system makes it unnecessary to carry out complementary processes such as heating, UV radiation, and using sound waves, which make the task more complicated and more expensive.

The research was conducted in the Soil Chemistry Laboratory in the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The researchers wish to thank the Lady Davis Foundation for Samapti Kundu’s post-doctoral research grant.

Click here for the paper in Chemical Engineering Journal.

First Breath

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First Breath

Researchers at the Technion uncover new dangers of mechanical ventilation in preterm babies, and propose preventive therapy

The joy of a baby coming into the world is accompanied by fear for this helpless little being, completely reliant on outside help to survive. This trepidation is even greater for a baby born preterm, much more unprepared for the world that welcomes it, and needing help even to breathe. In the womb, the fetus receives oxygen from the mother, through the umbilical cord. Once born, the newborn must breathe independently. Many premature babies with underdeveloped lungs require mechanical ventilation. The more prematurely the baby is born, the longer they will need artificial breathing.

Using a 3D model of the babies’ upper airways, the research team of Professor Josué Sznitman, of the Technion Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, discovered that due to shear forces caused by the air jet from the mechanical ventilator, cells in the airways display stress, and an inflammation process begins. Following this discovery, the researchers successfully tested the use of an anti-inflammatory drug, commonly used to help asthma patients, to prevent the damage caused by the ventilator. 

Approximately one in ten babies around the world is born prematurely. In high-income countries, countries, most premature babies survive. But despite significant advances in the care of preterm babies and improved ventilation technologies, many suffer from lifelong disabilities of varied severity. One problem is offsetting adverse side effects of invasive mechanical ventilation, essential for maintaining the lives of babies incapable of breathing independently. Today, the impact of ventilation on patient health and the fundamental mechanisms causing damage is still not fully understood, which presents an obstacle to developing solutions. Prof. Sznitman’s team confronts these challenges by combining expertise in physics, physiology, and biology. 

Prof. Josue Sznitman (right) and Dr. Eliram Nof

In a study published last year in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, Prof. Sznitman and (his then doctoral student) Dr. Eliram Nof identified an airflow phenomenon largely unnoticed in medical literature: a jet structure originating in the tube inserted into the trachea during mechanical ventilation. Using a physical (fluid dynamics based) model, they discovered regions of elevated shear stress, potentially incurring damage to the epithelial cell lining of the respiratory tract. Calculations revealed significant risks of injury from these forces, especially worrisome if exposed for lengthy periods in fragile patients such as premature babies. 

The 3D model, with epithelial cells-stained red.

In a follow-up study recently published in Bioengineering & Translational Medicine, the researchers tested their hypothesis in a new model featuring an artificial human lung epithelium. The team constructed a 3-D model of the upper respiratory tract, including the trachea and several branched airways. They cultured a layer of human lung epithelial cells in the model’s inner lumen, tracking their effects following mechanical ventilation. In doing so, they saw that the cells displayed stress and released cytokines – signaling proteins that influence inflammation.

Following this discovery, the group looked for means to mitigate or prevent the damage. The medication Montelukast, sold under the brand name Singulair, is commonly used in treating asthma patients. They found that topical delivery of the medication prior to starting mechanical ventilation considerably reduced cell death, It also altered the secretion of inflammation-related signaling proteins (cytokines). Repurposing an existing, fully approved drug saves the vast resources and time required for developing new medication, allowing for faster and easier adoption in other clinical uses.

“Today, we know that artificial ventilation incurs various trauma to the respiratory system despite being an established, life-saving procedure,” explained Prof. Sznitman. “Much of this damage has been attributed to mechanical factors such as high pressure and distention of deep (alveolar) lung tissue. In recent years, new insights into more complex processes have emerged. In the current study, we demonstrated in vitro the start of an inflammatory response at the core of morbidity in invasively ventilated infants. We linked the flow-induced shear stresses to inflammation by measuring cytokines, the messengers of the immune system, and tracking epithelial cell health.”  

Fluorescent bright-field microscopy imaging reveals a region of cell detachment localized at the first bifurcation. The epithelial cells are stained blue.

Damage caused by mechanical ventilation, particularly prolonged mechanical ventilation, is not just observed in premature babies. When the COVID-19 epidemic began, countries were racing to acquire ventilators. Soon, however, patients requiring prolonged respiratory support were developing inflammation and dying. Medical personnel started making every effort to postpone putting patients on ventilators, even when the patients were struggling to breathe on their own. The findings of Prof. Sznitman’s group could improve their survival chances and help patients suffering from other conditions, such as COPD, that necessitate prolonged mechanical ventilation.

Dr. Arbel Artzy-Schnirman

The methodology used by Prof. Sznitman’s group is of particular interest. Modeling the upper airways, they uncovered the mechanism of a deleterious effect and proposed treatment, all without necessitating animal studies. While animal testing cannot be eliminated from medical research entirely, advanced technologies permit scientists to use other means for earlier stages. Beyond reducing animal suffering, such methodologies permit scientists to obtain results faster, at a lower cost, and with reduced confounding factors, speeding up research. 

This study was led by Prof. Josue Sznitman, Dr. Eliram Nof, and Dr. Arbel Artzy-Schnirman, in collaboration with clinical specialists in pediatrics and otolaryngology, including Dr. Liron Borenstein-Levin, a faculty member at the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and an attending physician at the Neonatology Intensive Care Unit at Rambam Health Center. The work was supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Dr. Eliram Nof recently began his postdoctoral fellowship at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Dr. Arbel Artzy-Schnirman has been appointed the Head of the Advanced Technology Center for Applied Medical Research at the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa. 

For the article in Bioengineering & Translational Medicine click here

Video: https://youtu.be/u4R0MQqXISI
Particle image velocimetry (PIV)-based visualization of the air jet in the airways.

The First International Israel Data Science Initiative Conference

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The First International Israel Data Science Initiative Conference

This week the first international Israel Data Science Initiative (IDSI) Conference is taking place. Dozens of leading researchers, most of them from academia – professors and graduates from Israel’s leading universities – are attending the conference, held in Ein Gedi.

The chairman of the conference’s organizing committee is the Director of IDSI, Prof. Paul Feigin from the Technion. “The conference will be attended by dozens of Technion lecturers and their colleagues from research universities in Israel, from public institutions and from companies,” he said. “The importance of a physical meeting lies in the need to build the data science community to include core researchers and researchers from satellite disciplines. Such a community will promote mutual and interdisciplinary fertilization and lead to the informed and ethical use of data science for the benefit of society and industry.”

In recent years, there has been a leap in data science and artificial intelligence, and these are increasingly affecting all areas of life, including transportation, medicine, and education. It was against this backdrop that the national initiative was created in 2020. Established by the Council for Higher Education, the initiative promotes activity in these fields through collaborations within academia, between academia and industry, and between entities abroad. The international conference marks the first year of the program’s activities both nationally and internationally.

The conference deals with a wide range of topics, including computational learning, natural language processing (NLP),statistical learning, bioinformatics, AI and data science in education, computer vision, data science in biology, responsible AI and social good, and the mathematical basis for data sciences. The conference’s keynote lecturers are Prof. Yoav Freund and Prof. Trey Ideker from the University of California, San Diego; Prof. Bin Yu from Berkeley, and Prof. Ming Yuan from Columbia University.  Alongside the rich professional program, which includes lectures and poster presentations, there will also be social activities, including gala evenings and excursions in and around the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi.

Link to the conference website

Link to IDSI website

World Braille Day

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World Braille Day

Today, January 4th, is World Braille Day marking Louis Braille’s birthday. Although the Braille tactile writing system was invented about 200 years ago, there have been many technological challenges in adapting it to the computerized age.

Ph.D. student Ofek Peretz

A recent breakthrough published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) heralds a new generation of compact and efficient Braille monitors. The findings by researchers at the Technion and Cornell University present a “robotic Braille monitor” with a dynamic silicone surface and small Braille “bubbles” on top of it. The development is based on the flow of methane and oxygen into the silicon surface and the swelling of these “bubbles” using controlled micro-scale combustion and without any need for a pump.

Professor Amir Gat

The study’s authors, Prof. Amir Gat and Ph.D. student Ofek Peretz from the Technion Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, are engaged in broader research of soft robotics. This area draws great inspiration from biological tissue and natural organs such as an elephant’s trunk and an octopus’ arm, creating articulated robots, using flexible tubes actuated by internal fluids. The flow of the liquid into different patterns affects the flexible device in different ways, and a well-designed system can lead to precise movement and efficient control.

Illustration: An active Braille display consisting of a dense array of soft actuators. A – a soft micro-actuator array that makes up a single letter. B – Sketch of the assembly of the monitor’s layers. The monitor consists of layers of flexible material containing an array of channels with flammable gas (methane), electrodes that allow the creation of an electric spark at any point on the board, and a flexible membrane array that forms bumps on the surface in response to the burning of methane in the cells. C – Activates a single cell on the monitor by activating the burn compartment. D – Demonstrates the operation of a Braille surface by connecting the flexible monitor to an array of magnetic pins located on it, thus enabling the creation of an electronic braille surface controlled by electrical activation.

Louis Braille, born January 4,1809, lost his sight at the age of five. His father created a wooden board for him with nails in the shape of alphabet letters. At the age of 15, Braille developed the code now known as Braille.

For the article in PNAS click here

Videos:

https://youtu.be/eh8K5FEoCco

https://youtu.be/zBcbaCoCmUE

 

Self-healing nanomaterials usable in solar panels and other electronic devices

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Self-healing nanomaterials usable in solar panels and other electronic devices are being explored at the Technion

From the Terminator to Spiderman’s suit, self-repairing robots and devices abound in sci-fi movies. In reality, though, wear and tear reduce the effectiveness of electronic devices until they need to be replaced. What is the cracked screen of your mobile phone healing itself overnight, or the solar panels providing energy to satellites continually repairing the damage caused by micro-meteorites?

The field of self-repairing materials is rapidly expanding, and what used to be science fiction might soon become reality, thanks to Technion – Israel Institute of Technology scientists who developed eco-friendly nanocrystal semiconductors capable of self-healing. Their findings, recently published in Advanced Functional Materials, describe the process, in which a group of materials called double perovskites display self-healing properties after being damaged by the radiation of an electron beam. The perovskites, first discovered in 1839, have recently garnered scientists’ attention due to unique electro-optical characteristics that make them highly efficient in energy conversion, despite inexpensive production. A special effort has been put into the use of lead-based perovskites in highly efficient solar cells.

The Technion research group of Professor Yehonadav Bekenstein from the Faculty of Material Sciences and Engineering and the Solid-State Institute at the Technion is searching for green alternatives to the toxic lead and engineering lead-free perovskites. The team specializes in the synthesis of nano-scale crystals of new materials. By controlling the crystals’ composition, shape, and size, they change the material’s physical properties.

Nanocrystals are the smallest material particles that remain naturally stable. Their size makes certain properties more pronounced and enables research approaches that would be impossible on larger crystals, such as imaging using electron microscopy to see how atoms in the materials move. This was, in fact, the method that enabled the discovery of self-repair in the lead-free perovskites.

Group photo. L-R: Professor Yehonadav Bekenstein, Sasha Khalfin and Noam Veber Credit : Rami Shelush

The perovskite nanoparticles were produced in Prof. Bekenstein’s lab using a short, simple process that involves heating the material to 100°C for a few minutes. When Ph.D. students Sasha Khalfin and Noam Veber examined the particles using a transmission electron microscope, they discovered the exciting phenomenon. The high voltage electron beam used by this type of microscope caused faults and holes in the nanocrystals. The researchers were then able to explore how these holes interact with the material surrounding them and move and transform within it.

They saw that the holes moved freely within the nanocrystal, but avoided its edges. The researchers developed a code that analyzed dozens of videos made using the electron microscope to understand the movement dynamics within the crystal. They found that holes formed on the surface of the nanoparticles, and then moved to energetically stable areas inside. The reason for the holes’ movement inwards was hypothesized to be organic molecules coating the nanocrystals’ surface. Once these organic molecules were removed, the group discovered the crystal spontaneously ejected the holes to the surface and out, returning to its original pristine structure – in other words, the crustal repaired itself.

Electron microscopy images displaying the formation of the hole on the surface of the nanocrystal and its movement inwards. Credit: Bekenstein lab

This discovery is an important step towards understanding the processes that enable perovskite nanoparticles to heal themselves, and paves the way to their incorporation in solar panels and other electronic devices.

Prof. Yehonadav Bekenstein completed his degrees in Physics and Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, he joined the Technion faculty in 2018. He has received multiple awards, including the Käte and Franz Wiener Prize (Excellent PhD Thesis Award), the Rothschild Fellowship for postdoctoral scholars, and the Alon Scholarship for the Integration of Outstanding Faculty. In 2020 he was awarded the ERC Starting Grant for early-career scientists.

For the article in Advanced Functional Materials click here

Click here for a video explaining the research

Electron microscopy video displaying the formation of the hole on the surface of the nanocrystal and its movement inwards

Electricity from the Sea

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Electricity from the Sea

Researchers from the Technion have developed a new method that harvests an electrical current directly from seaweed in an environmentally friendly and efficient fashion. The idea, which came to the doctoral student Yaniv Shlosberg while swimming at the beach, has been developed by a consortium of researchers from three Technion Faculties who are members of the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP), along with a researcher from the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute (IOLR).

 

The researchers have presented their new method for collecting an electrical current directly from macroalgae (seaweed) in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics. The paper describes results obtained from researchers from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, the Faculty of Biology, the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering, GTEP and IOLR.

The use of fossil fuels results in the emission of greenhouse gases and other polluting compounds. These have been found to be connected to climate change, as evidenced by a variety of terrestrial phenomenon that have brought climate change to the forefront of global concerns. Pollution due to use of these fuels starts from their extraction and transportation around the globe, to be used in centralized power plants and refineries.

These problematic issues are the driving force behind research into methods of alternative, clean and renewable energy sources. One of these is the use of living organisms as the source of electrical currents in microbial fuel cells (MFC). Certain bacteria have the ability to transfer electrons to electrochemical cells to produce electrical current. The bacteria need to be constantly fed and some of them are pathogenic.

Prof. Gadi Schuster

A similar technology is Bio-PhotoElectrochemical Cells (BPEC). As for the MFC, the source of electrons can be from photosynthetic bacteria, especially cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae).  Cyanobacteria make their own food from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, and in most cases they are benign. In fact, there are cyanobacteria such as Spirulina, that are considered “super-foods” and are grown in large quantities. The research groups of Profs. Adir and Schuster have previously developed technologies that utilized cyanobacteria for obtaining electrical current and hydrogen fuel, as published in Nature Communications and Science. Cyanobacteria do have some drawbacks. Cyanobacteria produce less currents in the dark, as no photosynthesis is performed. Also, the amount of current obtained is still less than that obtained from solar cell technologies, so that while more environmentally benign, the BPEC is less attractive commercially.

Dr. Alvaro Israel

In the present study, the researchers from the Technion and IOLR decided to try to solve this issue using a new photosynthetic source for the current – seaweed (macroalgae). The research was led by Prof. Noam Adir and the doctoral student Yaniv Shlosberg, from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry and GTEP. They collaborated with additional researchers from the Technion: Dr. Tunde Toth (Schulich Faculty of Chemistry), Prof. Gadi Schuster, Dr. David Meiri, Nimrod Krupnik and Benjamin Eichenbaum (Faculty of Biology), Dr. Omer Yehezkeli and Matan Meirovich (Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering) and Dr. Alvaro Israel from IOLR in Haifa. Many different species of seaweed grow naturally on the Mediterranean shore of Israel, especially Ulva (also known as sea lettuce) which is grown in large quantities at IOLR for research purposes.

The picture shows one of the seaweed (Ulva) growth vats at the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute (IOLR) in Haifa. The vat is near the beach, and fresh seawater continuously flows through the system. Inside the vat we have introduced the electrochemical system. As the Ulva move in the vat, they associate with the electrode, producing a light-dependent electrical current that is measured by the external computer-operated potentiostat.

After developing new methods to connect between the Ulva and the BPEC, currents 1000 times greater than those from cyanobacteria were obtained – currents that are on the level of those obtained from standard solar cells. Prof. Adir notes that these increased currents are due to the high rate of seaweed photosynthesis, and the ability to use the seaweed in their natural seawater as the BPEC electrolyte – the solution that promotes electron transfer in the BPEC. In addition, the seaweed provides currents in the dark, about 50% of that obtained in light. The source of the dark current is from respiration – where sugars made by the photosynthetic process are used as an internal source of nutrients. In a fashion similar to the cyanobacterial BOEC, no additional chemicals are needed to obtain the current. The Ulva produce mediating electron transfer molecules that are secreted from the cells and transfer the electrons to the BPEC electrode.

The picture depicts a simulation of the processes harvesting electrical current from seaweed. The seaweed releases known molecules that transport electrons to a stainless-steel electrode (the anode). The electrons transfer to the second electrode (a platinum cathode) which can reduce protons found in the seawater electrolyte solution to hydrogen gas. The current can either be used directly, or if hydrogen is produced, the gas can be used as a future clean fuel. In the dark, the seaweed produces about 50% of the current obtained in light, as less electrons are produced in the absence of the photosynthetic process.

Fossil fuel-based energy producing technologies are known as “carbon positive”. This means that the process releases carbon to the atmosphere during the fuel combustion. Solar cell technologies are known as “carbon-neutral”, no carbon is released to the atmosphere. However, the production of solar cells and their transportation to the site of use is many times more “carbon positive”. The new technology presented here is “carbon negative”. The seaweed absorbs carbon from the atmosphere during the day while growing and releasing oxygen. During harvesting of the currents during the day, no carbon is released. During the night, the seaweed releases the normal amount of carbon from respiration. In addition, seaweed, especially Ulva, are grown for a variety of industries: food (Ulva is also considered a super food), cosmetics and pharma.

Doctoral student Yaniv Shlosberg

“It is a wonder where scientific ideas come from” says Yaniv Shlosberg, the graduate student who first thought of the possibility of using seaweed. “The famous philosopher Archimedes had a brilliant idea in the bathtub, leading to the “Archimedes’ Principle”. I had the idea one day when I went to the beach. At the time I was studying the cyanobacterial BPEC, when I noticed seaweed on a rock that looked like electrical cords. I said to myself – since they also perform photosynthesis, maybe we can use them to produce currents. From this idea came the collaboration from all the Technion and IOLR researchers which led to our most recent paper. I believe that our idea can lead to a real revolution in clean energy production”

Prof. Noam Adir

The Technion/IOLR researchers built a prototype device that collects the current directly in the Ulva growth vat. Prof. Adir adds: “By presenting our prototype device, we show that significant currents can be harvested from the seaweed. We believe that the technology can be further improved leading to future green energy technologies”.

Click here for the paper in Biosensors and Bioelectronics