Tired of cranking that wind-up torch? Perhaps it's time to grow some algae. Inspired by recent research into harnessing energy directly from plants, Netherlands-based designer Mike Thompson has come up with a concept for an algae powered lamp that runs on only sunlight, water and your breath.

Called the Latro (latin for thief), Thompson's concept design consists of a conical jar with a spout and a cross between a handle and a built-in straw at the top. Water is added through the spout, CO2 is added by breathing through the handle, sunlight enters from all sides and everything is in place to harvest energy from the algae.

This clean energy process has the potential to become more efficient than solar power but making Latro a reality, however, holds significant challenges. The electrodes used are just 30 nanometers wide and each cell is only capable of producing 1.2 picoamps, which means there'll be a whole lot of very fine electrodes if a useful amount of energy is going to be produced. Then if the algae aren't left enough energy for themselves they die, but this is to be avoided by a cut-out switch that stops energy being harvested from the algae when the light drops below their minimum requirements for life. So for best results you'll need treat the algae like a pet.

Much has been made recently of the potential for algae to produce biodiesel, however considering the low efficiency of that process when compared to harvesting energy directly from photosynthesis, perhaps we'll simply plug straight into the algae should advances in nanotechnology prove sufficient.

The energy yield to surface area ratio is currently equivalent to around a sixth of some silicon solar cells, so by the time it's cost efficient to produce the number of tiny electrodes necessary for this device, advances in technology might allow it to compete in terms of energy efficiency as well. But don't hold your breath - it seems that the designer himself doesn't predict this product will come into being until around 2035.

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