Scientists Create Algae Computer Powered By Photosynthesis

Researchers from the University of Cambridge barred a colony of cyanobacteria, generally known as blue-green algae, inside a metal chamber the size of an AA battery.

Forget your water-cooled PC — this one runs on pond scum. Scientists have employed algae to administer a low-energy computer chip for six months.

According to New Scientist, the unit was then left on a windowsill, where the algae photosynthesized, rendering a tiny current of electricity that powered an ARM Cortex-M0+ chip.

The system is only a concept validation, but its creators expect algae-powered chips could be used in the future Internet of Things devices. They say the benefit of using algae over traditional batteries or solar power is that it contains a minor environmental impact and could furnish continuous power.

“The increasing Internet of Things requires an increasing amount of power. We believe this will have to come from systems that can generate energy rather than store it like batteries,” Christopher Howe, Professor, joint senior writer of the paper, stated in a press statement. “Our photosynthetic appliance doesn’t run down the way a battery does because it’s constantly using light as the energy source.”

The algae-powered ARM chip was employed to carry out elementary calculations, during which it devoured a tiny 0.3 microwatts an hour, says New Scientist. Although the energy usage of standard computers alters based on factors like workload and age, this is a fraction of the electricity required to run an average PC. So, for example, if an ordinary desktop computer consumes 100 watts of power an hour, you would need approximately 333,000,000 algae “batteries” to drive it.

Algae System: Produced Extremely Small Amount Of Power

The researchers behind the project will need to scale up their solution, but they say the elemental attributions of algae power generation are satisfying. They say the algae they used did not require feeding, gathering all its power needed from natural sunlight. It was capable of continuing to produce power at nighttime based on energy stored in the day.

“We were ingrained by how invariably the system worked over a long period — we thought it might quit after a few weeks, but it just kept running,” Dr. Paolo Bombelli, the paper’s first author, said in a press statement.

Although using algae in this way is unusual, it’s also part of a growing area of research known as “biophotovoltaics.” The field aims to harness the power generated by biological microorganisms that naturally convert light into electricity through photosynthesis.

Although this process is hugely inefficient, with plants immersing only 0.25 percent of the energy of sunlight (compared to 20 percent absorbed in solar panels), advocates say biophotovoltaic energy systems could be inexpensive to produce and environmentally friendly. For example, they imagine that, in the future, giant “lily-pads” that float on water could be coated in algae to act as mobile power stations alongside offshore wind farms.