SEM image of rock grown by CCell electrolysis


Deciphering the wonders of science behind CCell Reefs

Dr Lola Olias

by Dr Lola Olias


A post by our electrochemist Lola Gonzalez on her latest research experience

At CCell we are very interested in understanding the science going on behind our artificial reefs. In a previous post How We Grow Reefs we explained how we use electrolysis of seawater to create rock around our structures to form artificial reefs that look like real coral reefs. In a nutshell, we connect the reef to an electrical current and, over time the minerals dissolved in seawater precipitate on the structure.

Simple, right? We thought so, until we started looking into it. Accretion of rock in seawater using electrolysis is in reality a complex process involving many steps taking place at the same time, quickly becoming hard to control if it is not well understood.

That is why last year we sent our electrochemist Dr. Lola Gonzalez to Spain on a quest to discover the intricacies of the electrochemical formation of rock in seawater. For six months she worked at the Institute of Polymer Science and Technology (ICTP) in Madrid, that belongs to the Spanish Institute of Research (CSIC). We chose the ICTP because of their long history of searching for innovative materials. The Centre is equipped with cutting edge technology for electrochemical tests and material characterization. We contacted Dr. Javier Carretero Gonzalez, a Principal Investigator at ICTP specialized in developing novel electrochemical-based materials and asked him to help us carry out the experiments in his lab. He really liked the idea!

electrochemical equipment

The electrochemical equipment at ICTP that we used to do the experiments.

That was it, in June, Lola started experimenting in the lab.

Lola performed the experiments using specialized electrochemical equipment that allows us to control precisely the electricity applied to the structures. The video shows how we grow rock and hydrogen bubbles under current:

Once we got the rock sample, we took some nice photos using a very powerful microscope: We got as close as 1 micrometer!

Scanning electron microscope image

Image of the rock formed during the experiments taken with the Scanning Electron Microscope.

With the help of Javier, CCell was able to determine which power conditions give the best rock for our reefs. Thanks to that work we can now set the power in our reefs and confidently predict the time it will take to be fully effective against waves.

“I am impressed with how helpful everybody is and all the equipment and facilities they have at the ICTP! Javier is an outstanding polymer scientist with incredible knowledge in setting up electrochemical experiments and designing and producing novel materials. It has been a pleasure to work alongside him during this time.” - Dr. Lola Gonzalez

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. We still have a long way ahead of us to fully understand the wonders of science behind artificial coral reefs!

Other posts
Cartoon of a wave breaking over a reef
CCell: How we grow reefs
A wave breaking over a reef
Reefs Vs. Waves
An algal lawn on a body of water overlaid with the words
Algae: Survival tools and biofuels
A coral reef with
Madelief Fisher: My CCell Experience
Coastal Erosion: Photos from the field. A arial view of an eroded coasline.
Coastal erosion: photos from the field
Cornstarch, Concrete and Crowdsourcing: 3D printed reefs
Cornstarch, Concrete and Crowdsourcing: 3D printed reefs