General Lighting

A Brighter Tomorrow: Microalgae in your Home

Since the days of the first cave-floor fires, we humans have been trying to improve the functionality of lighting our homes. Electricity has been our answer for over a hundred years now, and of course we keep improving on that idea with smaller, cooler, and more efficient lamps. We’re even exploring alternative energy, and today’s LEDs are light-years beyond those first campfires … but maybe we’re ready to try something a little less electric.

Pierre Calleja is a French biochemist and something of an algae fanatic who has been working with aquaculture technology for decades. He has developed a style of lamp that uses live algae cultures to generate light. The microalgae is naturally bioluminescent, and softly glows after being exposed to an outside light source like sunlight. The gentle glow of Calleja’s green lamps is soothingly soft, but surprisingly strong—a true green energy. Even better, that light isn’t all there is to the technology.

The oceans’ algae is the world’s greatest source of CO2 filtration, even more so than the great forests. Algae “breathes” carbon dioxide and releases clean oxygen—the opposite of what humans and other mammals do. In a TED talk, Calleja spoke of algae as part of the Earth’s lung system, along with forests. Algae is certainly the stronger lung in this analogy, as a single tank of algae can filter as much CO2 each year as a tree does in its entire life.

microalgae lamps
Photo by Tom Little Photography LLC

This isn’t just science. Jacob Douenias and Ethan Frier are designers who have created an art installation at The Mattress Factory, a division of The Museum of Contemporary Art, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their lamps use Spirulina algae in futuristic glass globes, harnessing the same strain of green goo that is found in green superfood drinks at health food stores and juice bars. The installation teaches observers to look at lighting in different ways, and advocates living with Spirulina in a symbiotic relationship, where our waste CO2 and surplus light feed the algae, and the algae colonies in return provide light and decor. Douenias and Frier are also proponents of considering the high-protein algae a home-grown food source, but only after it has been filtered and dried.

There are logistical struggles in outfitting a house with algae tanks for food and light, but Calleja has already installed his algae lamps in parks in Paris, and scientists are working everyday to improve the technology. The future is definitely looking green!