An Indian-origin engineer and his team from Concordia University in Canada have created a technology to harness the electrical energy from 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 engineering professor Muthukumaran Packirisamy, who did his MS (mechanical) from Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M).
Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae are the most prosperous microorganisms on Earth.
"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, a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
The invention, however, 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," he said.
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 the micro-photosynthetic power cells will soon be used in various applications, such as powering cellphones and computers.
"And maybe one day, they will power the world," he added.
The paper is published in the journal "Technology".