LSU Experts Patent Self-powered Lights That Could Ignite Algae Industry

May 23, 2023

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 BATON ROUGE – Two LSU faculty members have been awarded a U.S. patent for a miniature, self-powered light that boosts the production of algae used for health supplements, food, dyes and biofuels.

Maria Teresa Gutierrez-Wing, assistant professor of research at LSU AgCenter, and LSU Adjunct Professor Jin-Woo Choi say the devices’ major advantages include:

  • Doubling or tripling algae production in the same pond space.
  • Lowering overall costs by slashing electricity use.
  • Adjusting light wavelengths to increase chlorophyl and oil content, control pigment and speed growth.

“Algae needs light to grow, but sunlight or light from conventional lamps can penetrate only three to four inches beneath the water’s surface. This limits production because the algae beds can only grow so thick. Our lights can be programmed to suspend themselves at different water depths, so the algae can grow in thicker layers. Commercial algae ponds are typically around 20 inches deep at the most, so our lights can double or triple production. The numbers could be even higher since pond depth would no longer be limited,” Gutierrez-Wing said.

Estimates of the global algae market range from around $4 billion to more than $20 billion, with annual growth rates of 3 percent to 10 percent a year.

Conventional artificial lighting systems account for as much as half of algae production expenses. But Choi and Gutierrez-Wing’s lights sharply cut those costs. Their lights harvest the energy from water movement – pumps circulate the water in algae ponds – for power.

“Algae is a promising source of renewable energy and could provide an efficient, low-cost method of carbon capture. Algae can produce 50 times the oil per acre as traditional biofuel crops, like corn or soybeans,” Choi said. “Algae also consumes carbon dioxide to grow, which means algae farms could be placed near refineries or petrochemical plants and serve as air scrubbers, reducing or offsetting the plants’ CO2 emissions.”

LSU’s Office of Innovation & Ecosystem Development helped the professors shepherd their invention from concept through the patent process. The inventors have been working on their light design since 2013. They co-founded Envirotronics, a startup housed at LSU Innovation Park, to commercialize their lights, as well as water filters used in aquaculture.

LSU Innovation business consultants worked with Gutierrez-Wing and Choi to secure a grant from LSU’s Leverage Innovation for Tech Transfer, LIFT2, fund and federal seed funding from the Small Business Technology Transfer program to commercialize the invention. LSU Innovation also shepherded the self-powered lights through the patent process.

“Inventions like Drs. Gutierrez-Wing and Choi’s self-powered lights open up a world of economic and environmental possibilities. Enabling technological breakthroughs like these to reach the commercial stage is the reason LSU Innovation office was created,” LSU Office of Research and Economic Development Interim Vice President Robert Twilley said.

About LSU Innovation & Ecosystem Development

LSU Innovation works with the LSU research community to facilitate the evaluation, protection and licensing of intellectual property created at LSU. LSU Innovation also focuses on establishing, developing, and growing technology-based startup companies. This work maximizes the university's impact on the intellectual, economic and social development of Louisiana and beyond. LSU Innovation helps LSU entrepreneurs and the community through the evaluation of their discoveries and ideas, mechanisms for protecting their innovations, marketing and industry negotiations for intellectual property, and licensing and other agreements.