A Cambridge University computer processor has been proven to run on an amazing new type of battery. In a cartridge 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 create enough electricity to power the computer for six months.
As reported in Energy & Environmental Science, cyanobacteria allowed the computer to operate in cycles of 45; on then 15 minutes on standby. However, it did not perform complex equations, it calculated the sum of consecutive integers (to simulate a computational workload), measured the battery output current and sent this data to the cloud. Since the end of the experiment in August 2021, the battery has continued to produce energy.
“We were impressed with how smoothly the system worked over a long period – we thought it might stop after a few weeks, but it kept going,” said Dr Paolo Bombelli from the University’s biochemistry department. of Cambridge in a statement.
The system, which ran for six months without power interruption, consumed 0.3 microwatts of power during computation time and 0.24 during idle time.
It’s unclear how he does it, however. The team believe the most likely explanation is that cyanobacteria (the blue-green algae) release electrons during the process of photosynthesis. But the potency was not affected by the lack of light. The power was constant day and night. This may be because the algae process some of their food when there is no light and therefore continue to generate an electric current.
These algae-powered batteries may not be enough to power a home just yet – scalability is under consideration – but can certainly power small devices, especially in remote locations. Since they are made with inexpensive and recycled materials, they are affordable and could be paired with small electronics in various devices and sensors.
This could be a game-changer for the so-called “Internet of Things”, the idea that one day physical objects (“things”) equipped with sensors, software and other technologies will be able to connect to all sorts of things. devices on the internet. One of the current limitations of this is the availability of lithium; there is not enough production. But the existence of such a bio-battery could change the game.
“The growth of the Internet of Things requires an increasing amount of energy, and we believe this will need to come from systems that can generate energy, rather than just store it like batteries,” said Professor Christopher Howe, co-lead author of the article. “Our photosynthetic apparatus does not discharge like a battery, because it continually uses light as its energy source.”