Green Light! Algae-Powered Lamp Needs TLC to Provide Light

New energy sources are being developed and uncovered nearly every year, reducing our reliance on the traditional grid-based electricity. One of the oddest forms of alternative energy is one developed in 2010 by Stanford University and Yonsei University scientists. Their method uses the power of photosynthesis to produce a small electric current. Designer Mike Thompson exploits this new technology in a speculative product he calls the Latro Lamp.

The name Latro, which is Latin for “thief,” alludes to the fact that the lamp “steals” power from the process of photosynthesis to supply light. The glass chamber of the lamp contains green algae, which needs little more than sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to survive. The lamp needs to be stored in a spot where it receives the sunlight it requires. The water is enclosed in the glass chamber along with the algae. The only other element required by the living lamp is carbon dioxide, which we humans conveniently produce through another natural process: breathing.

The lamp’s owner has only to breathe into a small opening in the glass chamber to send a dose of CO2 in to the algae. Another opening allows the user to add water and also provides an escape route for the oxygen generated by the algae. Special sensors in the lamp’s machinery measure when the algae has all of the nourishment it needs, ensuring that the lamp’s light bulb will only draw energy from the plants when the plants are well cared for. In this way, the lamp acts as both an appliance and a pet, only performing its practical function when it has enough attention and care from its owner.

This concept is not yet being produced as an actual commercially-available product, but it does provide some food for thought. How much more careful would we be with our energy usage if we had to produce that energy first? The photosynthesis mini-power plant will probably never be able to power an entire house, but it could be very useful for power outages, natural disasters and camping, or any time when grid electricity just isn’t available.