Process and reactor design for biophotolytic hydrogen production

RSC Publishing
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 2013, 15 (26), pp. 10783 - 10794
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The green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii has the ability to produce molecular hydrogen (H2), a clean and renewable fuel, through the biophotolysis of water under sulphur-deprived anaerobic conditions. The aim of this study was to advance the development of a practical and scalable biophotolytic H2 production process. Experiments were carried out using a purpose-built flat-plate photobioreactor, designed to facilitate green algal H2 production at the laboratory scale and equipped with a membrane-inlet mass spectrometry system to accurately measure H2 production rates in real time. The nutrient control method of sulphur deprivation was used to achieve spontaneous H2 production following algal growth. Sulphur dilution and sulphur feed techniques were used to extend algal lifetime in order to increase the duration of H2 production. The sulphur dilution technique proved effective at encouraging cyclic H2 production, resulting in alternating Chlamydomonas reinhardtii recovery and H2 production stages. The sulphur feed technique enabled photobioreactor operation in chemostat mode, resulting in a small improvement in H2 production duration. A conceptual design for a large-scale photobioreactor was proposed based on these experimental results. This photobioreactor has the capacity to enable continuous and economical H2 and biomass production using green algae. The success of these complementary approaches demonstrate that engineering advances can lead to improvements in the scalability and affordability of biophotolytic H2 production, giving increased confidence that H2 can fulfil its potential as a sustainable fuel of the future.
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