Algae Street Lamps Suck Up C02, But How Exactly?

Editor’s Note: This story, based upon information we’ve been seeing, holds some viability questions as to whether or not the lamps are powered by energy from photosynthesis, or simply C02 scrubbers. As such, we’ve positioned it more as a C02 scrubber, with thoughts on what it might take to evolve into an actual self-powered device. 

Algae are a large, diverse group of simple microorganisms that have lived on Earth for billions of years. Although we typically associate the term algae with the slimy green stuff that accumulates on the surface of a stagnant pond, seaweed and kelp are also member of the algae family. In the right situations, algae can be very useful to humans, and their potential as an energy source has received lots of attention over the past few years.

French biochemist Pierre Calleja is now looking at algae as a potential source for helping clean the air of carbon dioxide. He has spent several years developing what looks to be an interesting street lamp that feeds on the vast amount of C02 swirling around in our atmosphere.

Calleja C02 Algae Lamp

image via Pierre Calleja/Shamengo

The lamps are really more like massive tanks filled with water and algae. As you can see from the video below, the lamps, making use of a lighted environment, work with the added micro-algae to scrub out the C02 in the air. What’s not exactly clear is how this process works. There are certainly examples out there of micro-algae being bred specifically to absorb carbon emissions (you can even try building this one if you have the DIY skills), but whether that includes this pet project of Calleja is unknown. Perhaps it involves a carbon sink making use of photosynthesis?

Now one thing there’s been some confusion on out there, and which this story originally got hung up on, is whether or not this could also be a self-powered lamp. In a lighted environment, the process that results could perhaps create energy, like a similar idea we wrote about back in 2010 that is inspired by a technique developed by scientists from Yonsei and Stanford University, that might possibly be stored in batteries connected to the tank. The stored energy could perhaps then be used to power the lights at night, though questions have been raised by some, such as at The Atlantic, on how viable this solution might really be.

There’s no denying that the street lights are cool, and if they became a regular fixture in densely populated cities – and are actually viable – they could have a massive impact air pollution in urban areas where trees are scarce.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

  • Bllan2002

    ok so where can the public buy these?

  • Stressed1

    what a great idea.  Sign us up! 

  • Hoogduin Public

    Turning energy from algae in to electricity is not that easy and/or effective on this scale.

  • LEFFmember

     Only a marketing product, it can not turn energy from algae into electricity…  Those who know the carrer of Pierre Calleja (business man and not scientist) will agree with me.

    • justsayin

      but the main purpose is reducing co2. so who cares?

    • WineScience

      If he were more of a businessman his product would not be visible only on blogs and discussion forums, and marketed only with a video that uses bad photo-shop…

  • Goodsolidride

    Where are the details on how algae generates electricity ?!?

    I smell snake-oil…It’s shameful when sites simply repeat poorly validated claims like these.

    • turnipweed

      Exactly!

      For 1 thing, algae has a narrow temperature comfort zone. It dies off below 50F, and above 110F. In hot summer sun, containers would easily reach 120F. 

  • Horst

    What a nonsense, algae don’t produce electricity which can be stored in batteries. This is a totally useless product. By the way, what do you do once the algae are grown and have been using up the nutrients, is there some kind of harvester attached?

    • http://twitter.com/DeanLogic Dean Logan

       Hopefully it isn’t like The Great Lakes, where the algae dies and creates deadly botulism.

    • Guest

      Purpose of these are actually to remove CO2 in the air in denser urban areas is it not? Therefore although it’d be great if it produces electricity, as long as it removes CO2 from the air like it’s suppose to, I’d love to see it grow as alternative to street lights

  • Whispering Siren

    To call this a “light” is silly. As the algae grows, it would get denser in the tank, making it darker and darker over time. Even to begin with, they’d make the water green, which is a pretty dim color of light. Also, I don’t buy that the algae’s providing any power. I feel like the “light” bit would just be an excuse to have the algae there. If so, just produce a container to be placed underneath traffic lights to do the same thing. The problem would still be in how the overgrowth of algae would be handled, though.

    • Raul

      regular maintenence, such as with regular city lights, would be my guess as to how the overgrowth of algae would be delt with. I would imagine a group of city workers removing some of the excess algae maybe once a month, or whatever amount of time would be adequate. As far as the light itself is concerned, you have to remember that this is a new source of technology and just like with any other piece of technology, when it is new, it’s not always a great product but things get better with time.

      • http://www.facebook.com/MontGBuer Zach Meyer

        I would love wondering the streets at night with these to look up to. XD

      • http://www.facebook.com/mark.matson6 Mark Matson

        The excess algae is apparently a ton a year. It’s defining advantage, scrubbing a ton of carbon from the atmosphere each year, is also it’s disadvantage. Someone needs to collect that ton and do something with it. If it is used for food or fuel the carbon isn’t really removed from the atmosphere — though it might be replacing oil currently used for the same purpose for a net carbon improvement.

    • Lak

      I must assume they have a filtration and recycling system, especially given the size and need to deal with the algae bulk. The algae bio-generators have them, so these probably do too.

  • Bogglesuss

    they don’t produce electricity you dummies. they simply feed on the Co2 emissions and cause less global warming

    • yourmothersbucketvag

      Who are you calling dummies? Dick.

      • Flynn567

         Well you guys, you can see them plug it in lol It’s a Co2 scruber NOT a power generator, Maybe one day :P

        • http://www.facebook.com/kikojui Kikojui Frary
        • Aeir_Z

          Solar panels on the top of the lamp problem solved

          • http://www.facebook.com/wlfgng666 Brandon Eidson

            solar panels would mainly be used to create the light source used to stimulate the algae… to make it a generator you would have to put about a 8′ square solar panel on it… that would create enough electricity to carry itself and a few other little things. the downfall to this is kind of obvious.

    • Cb

      they do produce electricity… thats exactly why they use batteries to store the energy and can use the power to light them up when it gets dark.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Craig-Mackenzie/706349275 Andrew Craig Mackenzie

         Show me where the video says that it uses batteries.

        These lamps DO NOT produce electricity. The large tank that can absorb 1 tonne CO2/year uses about 8 *mains powered* fluoros.

        • http://www.facebook.com/MontGBuer Zach Meyer

          Someone gave a link that said that studies showed that during photosynthesis, scientists found a small current that can be harnessed like shown.

          • allpraizjeebus

            it says in the future they might be able to harness that, but that’d be the same voltage as me making a hydro dam in my sink

  • http://twitter.com/305beast52 305beast52

    what are the trade offs? is there a paper on this?

  • guest

    This guy needs to get on kickstarter, i would love to have one of these in my home. 
    http://www.kickstarter.com/

  • brentkutz

    I wonder if the algae overgrowth is collected if it could be turned into fuel or food.  What if a city had a large number of these piped together and the excess algae are drained to a central spot to be processed.  If you replace a large cities street lights with these it would be a big source of renewable energy.

  • Anne A

    I have a web-site called http://www.howcanyoubegreen.com.  I will comment on this reseach on there.  It is a very interesting development in reducing CO2 build up in the environment 

  • Kbiz

    It’s probably CO2 neutral since it uses a light at night which is powered by the coal fire plant…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7CDGVGW6QEFODQDVBHYNJPPE2Y Del Bancroft

    Take one of these; add a solar cell, rechargeable battery pack, a small air pump and optional LED night lights.  Nice CO2 scrubber for your house or work place.    You’ll have higher levels of O2, even if just a little bit higher. You can produce algae as a food/energy/fertilizer source. Just replace the algae so often………
    Now they need to produce one for CCR Diving.

  • Scheme24

    The particular algae is bio-luminescent, it does not produce electricity just light as it grows the point of the lamp is to remove CO2 from the air as the algae grows.  In order to be effective the excess algae would need to be removed from the tank periodically, and then hopefully buried. Turning it into bio-fuel would just put the CO2 back into the atmosphere.

    Maybe at some point in the future once we remove enough CO2 we could use the excess as bio-fuel.   

  • whateva

    Hahahaha! CO2 has nothing to do with global warming! This is a political lie called ecoterrorism…
    search “the great global warming swindle”

    • Karli2

      If global warming is a swindle, is pollution still pollution? Is acid rain still acid rain? Is lung cancer, clean water, and better living quality worth striving for? Child would know the answer better than any adult who thinks they are clever when really they are afraid to meet with reality. 

      As a teenager, I know how awesome the future is going to be with all the bright people I work with.

      Humans are capable of sharing body parts to save others and helping others without anything in return, but are also capable of war and bloodshed in a world wide scale while letting others starve while others live with such a bounty that they die fat and overweight. This really offends me.

      • Atroll

        Yes. Lung cancer IS worth striving for. I’ve been striving for it for years. One day I’ll get it.

  • Marc

    This is stupid. The algae will absorb CO2 and eventually, they have to die or get eaten where they’ll turn right back into CO2. Since no process is 100% efficient, they’ll generate more CO2 than they absorb. It’s a simple law of physics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/happypumkin81 Christopher Williams

    I can see this in homes and business, but Algae is a living organism susceptible to weather conditions. So what happens when the weather drops below freezing? Plus how often would you have to change out a battery? It may not be a very economical solution if your replacing batteries two to three times a year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500246018 David Bankson

    It
    is not saying it’s powered by CO2. It uses a battery to keep the algae
    alive, the algae converts the CO2 to oxygen at a rate similar to two
    regular house plants. More of a gimmick than anything, the production of
    its batteries and other hardware creates more CO2 (among other things) than the algae is even converting.

  • mlee952

    hype;
    this lamp uses fluorescent tubes that are plugged into the electric
    grid. It consumes electricity. Most electricity is made by burning
    fuel – that makes CO2 so this is just BS.

  • Nigel

    Why does this article refer to C02 (C ZERO TWO) instead of CO2?

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.muscara David Muscara

    Your missing the point. Forget the lamp! It’s a step in the right direction! This link explains more about Bioelectricity
    http://www.whydontyoutrythis.com/2013/02/Stanford-researchers-find-electrical-current-stemming-from-plants.html

  • Guest

    I may be one of the “dummies” but it seems to me the algae are simply doing what all green plants do and that is take in CO2 and grow and build more algae plants. This process is well understood. So my question is what happens when the algae have filled the container and no more can be grown? Do then have to change the algae “light bulb? At any rate, this is a cool idea and I’m glad to see that people are working on solving the problem of CO2 in the atmosphere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=531937342 Ed Shafer

    I may be one of the “dummies” but it seems to me the algae are simply doing what all green plants do and that is take in CO2 and grow and build more algae plants. This process is well understood. So my question is what happens when the algae have filled the container and no more can be grown? Do we then have to change the algae “light bulb? At any rate, this is a cool idea and I’m glad to see that people are working on solving the problem of CO2 in the atmosphere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000134791115 Tom McLachlin

    The captured carbon remains in the bottom of the tank in the form of dead algae. It quickly starts to smell like a swamp. I think planting a lot of trees works better.

  • Sheila Lord

    I want to buy one of these ~ how much and where?

  • Idoubtit

    Wow, lots of people obviously lack even a rudimentary understanding of basic biology…CO2 is not an energy source- it is not a fuel. Green plants and algae use LIGHT as an energy source to convert CO2 into biomass and oxygen. At night, when there is no light, they RESPIRE biomass and oxygen and produce CO2. This thing is NOT self-powered- and takes a hell of a lot more maintenance as a CO2 scrubber than a tree would take. If not maintained, it will both waste electricity AND generate METHANE, which is 20x worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, when the algae die and rot anaerobically. Read http://www.withouthotair.com and get a real idea what it will take for us to tackle global warming- there is no quick fix.

  • anonymous

    These look like they would cause more C02 emissions from increased maintenance compared to an LED light. You have to clean the algae out of their eventually. Also they take power to run and I seriously doubt it is anywhere close to LED efficiency so that is more emissions there as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005337914271 Facebook User

    This is the first step to obtaining one of these. http://igg.me/p/349682/x/2569297

  • Robert Rhyne

    Enzymes slow down as temperature decreases. Less enzyme activity=less photosynthesis. It is not an earthwide solution; however, it can be used in warm environments. Pierre Calleja is a scientist, he should have seen this problem.

  • Alex Animals And Gardens

    OK this is good information,Hope the oil giants don’t get to kill him like they killed the one who discovered how to replace fuel for water.