Researchers in Munich are working hard to develop clean aircraft fuels. In the not-too-distant future, they hope that algae, sunlight and CO2 will provide the energy needed for global aviation.
At dusk in Ottobrunn, the glass structure sparkles like an emerald amid the otherwise generally gray campus buildings. Numerous large basins and the approximately 200,000 LED lamps bathe the laboratory in green hues. The algae being studied here can indeed be seen as precious gems. Their enormous energy content has experts touting them as the "green successors" of "black gold".
When professor Thomas Brück (TU Munich) is at work, he can experience conditions like in Almeria, Spain, or in Chile's Atacama desert. The 1,500 square meter algae research facility, which opened in October 2015, can simulate almost any climate, thanks to the world's largest high-performance LED system. Combining a high-tech air conditioning system and a light sensor on the glass roof that measures the intensity of the natural sunlight, the light output, temperature and humidity can be set to any desired levels.
The objects of this one-of-a-kind research set-up are obliviously floating in a cascading sequence of basins, visible to the naked eye as nothing more than a slimy greenish layer: microalgae. They are the creatures that are made to feel in their LED-radiated basins as if they are in Chile, Spain or Australia. "We want to find out what type of algae thrives best under which climate conditions," explains Brück. With this work, he is actually engaged in fundamental research in aviation.