A computer processor at the University of Cambridge has proven that it can work with an incredible new type of battery. In a container no 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.
According to Energy & Environmental Science, the cyanobacteria allowed the computer to work in cycles of 45. It works after 15 minutes of standby. However, it did not perform complex equations, calculated the sum of consecutive integers (to simulate a computational workload), measured the current output of the battery, and sent this data to the cloud. Since the end of the experiment in August 2021, the battery has continued to generate energy.
“We were impressed by how stable the system was for a long time – we thought it could stop after a few weeks, but it kept working,” said Dr Paolo Bombelli, of the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University.
The system, which operated for six months without a power outage, consumed 0.3 microwatts of power during computing time and 0.24 during idle time.
However, it is not clear how he does it. The team believes that the most likely explanation is that cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) release electrons during the process of photosynthesis. But the power was not affected by the lack of light. The power was constant both day and night. This may be because algae process part of their food when there is no light, and thus continue to generate electricity.
These algae-powered batteries may not be enough to power another home – scalability is being explored – but they can certainly power small appliances, especially in remote locations. Since they are made with cheap and recycled materials, they are economical and could be combined with small electronics in various devices and sensors.
It could change the game for the so-called “Internet of Things”, the idea that one day physical objects (“things”) equipped with sensors, software and other technology could be connected to any kind of device via the Internet. One of the current limitations of this is the availability of lithium. not produced enough. But having such a bio-battery could change the game to do that.
“The growing Internet of Things needs a growing amount of energy, and we believe it should come from systems that can produce energy, rather than just storing it as batteries,” said Professor Christopher Howe, co-author of the paper. “Our photosynthetic device does not run out like a battery, because it constantly uses light as an energy source.”