Scientists from Concordia University in Montreal have discovered a way to harness electrical energy from the processes of photosynthesis and respiration in blue-green algae, according to a press release. The findings, outlined in their paper, come shortly before the world leaders meet in France next week for the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change to discuss possible solutions to global warming.
"Both photosynthesis and respiration, which take place in plants cells, involve electron transfer chains," said Muthukumaran Packirisamy, co-author of the study. "By trapping the electrons released by blue-green algae during photosynthesis and respiration, we can harness the electrical energy they produce naturally."
Blue-green algae make great candidates for energy harvesting for various reason - for one, they are the most common and flourishing microorganisms on the earth from an evolutionary standpoint.
"By taking advantage of a process that is constantly occurring all over the world, we've created a new and scalable technology that could lead to cheaper ways of generating carbon-free energy," said Packirisamy.
The team's process involves placing blue-green algae into an anode chamber - as they go through photosynthesis, the algae release electrons to the electrode surface, which is in turn extracted by an external load that is connected to the device and used for power.
Despite the promise of their unique energy harvesting process, they still have a long ways to go.
"We have a lot of work to do in terms of scaling the power cell to make the project commercial," Packirisamy said.
Although the invention is still in the early stages of development, the team hopes to expand the project over time and ultimately help in the integration of micro photosynthetic power cells into cell phones and computers.