Toronto: Researchers led by an Indian-origin scientist have developed a novel technology that harnesses electrical energy from blue-green algae that could be used to power cell phones and computers in future.
A team led by Concordia University engineering professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy created a power cell that harnesses electrical energy from the photosynthesis and respiration of blue-green algae.
"Both photosynthesis and respiration, which take place in plants cells, involve electron transfer chains. By trapping the electrons released by blue-green algae during photosynthesis and respiration, we can harness the electrical energy they produce naturally," said Packirisamy.
Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae are the most prosperous microorganisms on Earth, evolutionarily speaking, researchers said.
They occupy a broad range of habitats across all latitudes. And they have been here forever: the planet's early fauna and flora owe their makeup to cyanobacteria, which produced the oxygen that ultimately allowed higher life forms to flourish.
"By taking advantage of a process that is constantly occurring all over the world, we have created a new and scalable technology that could lead to cheaper ways of generating carbon-free energy," said Packirisamy.
He noted that the invention is still in its early stages.
"We have a lot of work to do in terms of scaling the power cell to make the project commercial," said Packirisamy.
Currently, the photosynthetic power cell exists on a small scale, and consists of an anode, cathode and proton exchange membrane. The cyanobacteria or blue green algae are placed in the anode chamber.
As they undergo photosynthesis, the cyanobacteria release electrons to the electrode surface. An external load is connected to the device to extract the electrons and harness power.
Packirisamy hopes that the micro photosynthetic power cells will soon be used in various applications, such as powering cell phones and computers.
The research was published in the journal Technology.