In a ghostly vision of a future cut off from sunlight, the machine overloads matrix Film series turned to sleeping human bodies as power sources. If they had had sunlight, algae would undoubtedly have been a better choice.
Engineers at the University of Cambridge in the UK have powered a microprocessor for more than six months on nothing more than electricity produced by a common species of cyanobacteria. The process is designed to power huge swarms of electronic devices.
“The growing Internet of Things requires more and more energy, and we believe that this must come from systems that can generate energy instead of just storing it like batteries,” says Christopher Howe, a biochemist and (we assume) non- mechanical human.
Unlike the side of the web we use to tweet and share TikTok clips, the Internet of Things connects less idiosyncratic objects like washing machines, coffee makers, vehicles, and remote environmental sensors.
In some cases, these devices operate far from a power grid. Often they are so remote or in such awkward locations that there is no easy way to put in a new battery when it dies, or repair their power source if it deteriorates or breaks.
For technology that only runs on a current flicker, the solution is to simply absorb energy from the environment, capture movement, carbon, light or even waste heat and use it to create a voltage.
Photovoltaic cells (solar energy) are an obvious solution in today’s world given the rapid advances that have been made in recent years to get more energy out of every ray of sunshine.
However, if you want power at night, you need to add a battery to your device, which not only adds bulk but requires a mix of potentially costly and even toxic substances.
The creation of a “living” energy source that converts materials in the environment, such as B. methane, makes for a greener, simpler power cell that doesn’t run down as the sun goes down. On the other hand, they will run out of juice once their food supply runs low.
Algae could be the solution that offers a middle ground, acting as a solar cell and living battery to provide reliable electricity without the need to replenish nutrients. Algae is already being researched as a source of energy for larger farms and could also power countless small devices.
“Our photosynthetic device doesn’t drain like a battery because it’s constantly using light as its energy source,” says Howe.
Their bio-photovoltaic system uses aluminum wool as the anode, largely because it’s relatively easy to recycle and less of an environmental concern compared to many other options. It also gave the team the opportunity to study how living systems interact with power-producing aluminium-air batteries.
The “organic” part of the cell was a strain of freshwater cyanobacteria called the Synechocystischosen for its ubiquity and the fact that it has been studied so extensively.
Under perfect laboratory conditions, a version of the cell the size of an AA battery managed to generate just over four microwatts per square centimeter. Even when the lights were off, the algae continued to deplete food reserves to create a smaller but still noticeable current.
That might not sound like much, but if you just need a bit of power to keep it running, Algae Power could be just the ticket.
A reduced-instruction-set programmable 32-bit processor commonly used in microcontrollers was given a series of sums to chew on for a 45-minute session, followed by a 15-minute break.
Left in the lab’s ambient light, the processor underwent the same task for more than six months, showing that simple algae-based batteries are more than capable of powering rudimentary computers.
“We were impressed by how consistently the system worked over a long period of time – we thought it would stop after a few weeks, but it just kept going,” says biochemist Paolo Bombelli.
Given the speed at which we’re finding new ways to incorporate electronics into everyday objects, it’s clear that we can’t keep producing lithium-ion batteries to power them all.
And frankly, using sleeping human bodies to power massive swarms of computers is just overkill. right, machines?
This study was published in Energy and Environmental Sciences.