Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development

MEDIA - Press office ENEA

Energy: ENEA presents the first algovoltaic system in Italy

ENEA, in collaboration with Enel Green Power, has created the first algovoltaic system in Italy, which couples photovoltaic electricity with the cultivation of microalgae for applications in food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry. The algovoltaic plant, just completed at the ENEA Research Center in Portici (Naples) as part of an agreement between ENEA and Enel Green Power, generates an annual production of approximately 30 kilograms of dried algae with a module surface area of 40 m2 and a power of 7 kWp (peak value).

The Portici algovoltaic system allows cultivation of microalgae with high commercial value - from 100 to 600 €/kg for pharmaceutical or cosmetic use - through a fully automated cultivation system integrated with a photovoltaic system.

 “There are several advantages to this approach” pointed out Carmine Cancro, researcher at the ENEA Portici Research Centre Smart Grid and Energy Networks Laboratory. “First of all – he said – algae enable us to exploit solar energy better than traditional crops since they have greater photosynthetic efficiency; furthermore, they are of high environmental importance as they capture carbon dioxide, transforming it into biomass through photosynthesis and releasing pure oxygen into the atmosphere. Last but not least, this technological solution is also well suited to 'retrofit' existing photovoltaic systems".

Microalgae grow in an aqueous solution flowing inside photobioreactors, transparent glass tubes positioned under the photovoltaic modules- shielded from direct sunlight- arranged in two parallel vertical arrays and interconnected to form a continuous coil that facilitates fluid circulation. Thanks to the photosynthesis triggered by solar energy and the consequent absorption of carbon dioxide, the microalgae grow within the solution until they reach a density and a state of maturation such that they can be collected, through a powerful centrifuge that separates them from the water.

The innovative system was created by an interdisciplinary team of technicians specialized in microalgae, ENEA researchers with specific skills in the creation of solar systems for research - including Alessandra Scognamiglio, expert in integrated photovoltaics, Paola Delli Veneri, expert in advanced photovoltaics devices and Carmine Cancro - and a team of Enel Green Power technicians responsible for the design of the photovoltaic system, who will contribute to the evaluation of the performance and the scalability of the integrated application on large systems.

The integration layout of the microalgal plant will be able to ensure the highest production yield, based on the project specifications of the photovoltaic system, a fixed system with single and double-sided modules, whose performance testing was started in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture of the University of Naples Federico II.

The algovoltaic system is one of the technological innovations presented by ENEA at Zero Emission Mediterranean 2023 dedicated to green technologies, held in Rome  concurrently with Blue Planet Economy Expoforum on the blue economy.

Algovoltaic system at the ENEA Research Center in Portici (Naples), for the production of energy from photovoltaics and microalgae.
Algovoltaic system at the ENEA Research Center in Portici (Naples), for the production of energy from photovoltaics and microalgae.