Microalgae are a promising feedstock for sustainable biofuel production. At present, however, there are a number of challenges that limit the economic viability of the process. Two of the major challenges are the non-uniform distribution of light in photobioreactors and the inefficiencies associated with traditional biomass processing. To address the latter limitation, a number of studies have demonstrated organisms that directly secrete fuels without requiring organism harvesting. In this paper, we demonstrate a novel optofluidic photobioreactor that can help address the light distribution challenge while being compatible with these chemical secreting organisms. Our approach is based on light delivery to surface bound photosynthetic organisms through the evanescent field of an optically excited slab waveguide. In addition to characterizing organism growth-rates in the system, we also show here, for the first time, that the photon usage efficiency of evanescent field illumination is comparable to the direct illumination used in traditional photobioreactors. We also show that the stackable nature of the slab waveguide approach could yield a 12-fold improvement in the volumetric productivity.
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