What will be the future of light? It is likely that we will seek
solutions that will move away from the use of electricity and utilize a
more sustainable form of power instead. What could that power source possibly be?
Biochemist and designer Pierre Calleja has come up with the greenest light source to date, one that not only has practically zero carbon emissions, but it actually pulls CO2 from the air, purifying as it creates light. These tiny microalgae create electricity naturally, turning both sunlight and CO2 into energy. Calleja's street lamps consist of two parts, a tube of microalgae suspended in water (their growth medium) and a battery. The energy the algae form using photosynthesis is stored in the battery and used to power the lamp after dark.
Microalgae (also known as microphytes) are among the most ancient of organisms, but their potential has yet to truly be tapped—only a fraction of the 800,000 thought to be in existence have been isolated and described. They are single-celled yet highly productive creatures, producing half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, as well as antioxidants, fatty acids, peptides, and other essential enzymes. They flourish across all types of environments and habitats that are typically not considered to be agricultural—all they really need is water to survive. Other branches of science have been exploring the idea of farming microalgae also, from the creation of biofuel to wastewater treatment.
Once you get over the eerie greenish color of the light produced by Calleja’s microalgae street lamps, the brilliance of his solution shines through. Imagine if the very lights that illuminate our roadways are working to counteract the carbon emissions of our vehicles! These lights are still in a prototype stage—as is much microalgae technology—but given some fine tuning they have the potential to enact a sea change in how we think about sources of power, and shed new forms of light on our modern world.