A computer powered by an algae battery ran for a full six months

A computer powered by an algae battery ran for a full six months

A Cambridge University computer processor has proven it can run on an incredible new type of battery. In a canister not much larger than an AA battery, the researchers placed blue-green algae in a container with electrodes, and the microorganisms were able to use sunlight to generate enough electricity to power the computer for six months.

As reported in Energy & Environmental Science, the cyanobacteria allowed the computer to run in cycles of 45; work and then stand by for 15 minutes. However, it didn’t run complex equations, instead it calculated the sum of consecutive integers (to simulate a computational workload), measured the battery’s current output, and sent that data to the cloud. The battery has continued to produce electricity since the end of the experiment in August 2021.

“We were impressed by how consistently the system worked over a long period of time – we thought it might stop after a few weeks, but it just kept going,” said Dr. Paolo Bombelli of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry in a statement.

The system, which ran for six months without power interruption, consumed 0.3 microwatts during computing time and 0.24 microwatts when idle.

However, it is not clear how it does this. The team thinks the most likely explanation is that the cyanobacteria (the blue-green algae) release electrons during the photosynthetic process. But the performance was not affected by lack of light. The power supply was constant both day and night. This may be because the algae process some of their food when there is no light, and so continue to generate electricity.

These algae-powered batteries may not yet be enough to power a home — scalability is being studied — but they can certainly power small devices, especially in remote locations. Because they are made from inexpensive and recycled materials, they are affordable and could be combined with small electronics in various devices and sensors.

It could be a game-changer for the so-called “Internet of Things,” the idea that one day physical objects (the “things”) equipped with sensors, software, and other technology can connect to all kinds of devices over the internet. One of the current limitations is the availability of lithium; Not enough is being produced. But the existence of such a biobattery could be a game changer to bring this about.

“The growing Internet of Things requires more and more energy, and we believe this needs to come from systems that can generate energy, rather than simply storing it like batteries,” said Professor Christopher Howe, co-author of the paper. “Our photosynthetic device doesn’t discharge like a battery because it continuously uses light as its energy source.”

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