I have some questions about algae lamps:

  • How does the algae charge the battery during the day?(process)

  • How does the algae use energy from the battery at night?(process)

  • Is algae able to fill the battery?

  • Is the algae's glow used as the light source?

  • How long does the lamp last without maintenance?

  • How does temperature affect the algae?

  • How can we connect the 30 nanometre-wide gold electrodes to each cell of liquid algae ?

  • 1
    I've never heard of an algae lamp! Can you provide a link to some more details about one, such as one for sale somewhere? Nov 4 '13 at 2:17
  • 1
    @HighlyIrregular I don't think algae lamps are for sale yet, but here is some info
    – THelper
    Nov 4 '13 at 9:31

I think I agree with THelper that the term algae lamp is a bit of a misnomer, however...it's complicated.

You can make a 'lamp' from bio-luminescent algae - but this is a much different thing than the photosynthesis process charging a battery and then running a regular light off of that store energy. If you could do this (and I'm not saying you can't, but I suspect it would be awfully difficult), why not use grass? Or bamboo? Or tomatoes?

That being said, I think the only thing that's limiting you from having an algae lamp (as opposed to an algae nightlight) is the amount of area you're willing to devote to the project. Bio-luminescent algae in natural conditions can illuminate entire shorelines - but that's a lot of algae. Not to say it's impossible, as you can purchase and culture this algae.

After culturing your giant algae bed, you'd also need a way to mechanically stimulate it, as this is where the light comes from, but I think after the work needed to culture a large amount of algae, this would be trivial.


This algae lamp idea is a bit of a strange story. If you watch this 2013 TedX video, at 9:35 you see what seems to be algae in a tank giving light. However, never in the video did the inventor use the words 'algae lamp' or did he say that the algae are providing energy. Instead he says that he wants to use these street lamps for carbon sequestration, so the algae are not for lighting! I suspect in the movie they use an external light source to provide light to the algae (they need light and CO2 to grow).

According to this page in 2007 Pierre Calleja patented an idea about an algae lamp where a battery would be charged via photosynthesis. However, If you search the inventor's company website for the keyword 'lamp' you get 0 hits. This all leads me to believe that they first tried to develop algae lamps but failed and are now pursuing a different approach and that is using algae for carbon sequestration.


I was able to find a paper that describes how scientists from Stanford University and Yonsei University in Seoul managed to attach the gold electrodes to the cells of an algae. Unfortunately I don't have access to the full paper, but this 2010 Stanford news release provides some additional information:

The Stanford research team developed a unique, ultra-sharp nanoelectrode made of gold, specially designed for probing inside cells. They gently pushed it through the algal cell membranes, which sealed around it, and the cell stayed alive. From the photosynthesizing cells, the electrode collected electrons that had been energized by light and the researchers generated a tiny electrical current.

The news article also describes the problems:

...they were able to draw from each cell just one picoampere, an amount of electricity so tiny that they would need a trillion cells photosynthesizing for one hour just to equal the amount of energy stored in a AA battery. In addition, the cells die after an hour.

  • I have read about algae lamp and how it works but I cannot contact with the one who publish it. this the website although he put his email but he doesn't respond miket.co.uk/images/Latro.pdf
    – fransisco
    Nov 4 '13 at 20:09
  • @fransisco On page 4 of the Latro pdf you are referring to it says: "Latro is a speculative product responding to this future market." So the lamp has never been built! The pdf merely describes ideas about how such a lamp should work in the future.
    – THelper
    Nov 6 '13 at 15:24

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