Computer powered by a colony of blue-green algae for 6 months

Computer powered by a colony of blue-green algae for 6 months

Metal and plastic container full of green liquid

There is “green energy” and then there is really GREEN energy, or rather, blue-green energy. A colorful colony of photosynthetic cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae, has successfully powered a computer microprocessor for more than six months, according to study published Thursday in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

The small bio-based alternative battery could serve as a way to power small electronics without rare earth elements and lithium, materials in small stock and in increasing demand, according to the researchers of the study. In addition, the system could also help bridge the electricity gap by providing another feeder for people in rural or low-income countries, the senior author said. Chris Howebiochemist at the University of Cambridge, at a press release.

During a pandemic blockade, the computer system with algae was placed in the window of another Cambridge biochemist, Paolo Bombelli’s, home. He remained there from February to August 2021, and all the time he worked, according to reference by Young Scientist. At six extra months later The official test, scientists said seaweed device and computer keep running.

Although the microprocessor has been disconnected since then, the cyanobacterial device continues to generate power. “It still works and I hope it works for a long time. Given “The right light, temperature and water conditions, I can not predict when it will stop,” Bombelli said in an email to Gizmodo. In which Gizmodo says: Very good germs!

Cyanobacteria collect energy from sunlight and make it food for themselves. For this study, the researchers put the energy-providing microorganisms (namely, Continuous cyst sp.) in a plastic and steel housing, about the size of an AA battery, together with an aluminum anode.

Throughout the experiment, the connected microprocessor was programmed to do a bunch of calculations and then test its own work. He did this in 45-minute increments, followed by a 15-minute standby, continuously for months with the cyanobacteria unit as the sole energy source.

two people in a workshop

The researchers offered two hypotheses about how their system generated electricity. In the so-called “electrochemical” model, the microbes simply produced the right conditions to oxidize the aluminum anode — or to release electrons, which then create an electrical output. In the “bio-electrochemical” model, the cyanobacteria themselves produced electrons which were transported through bacterial membranes to the aluminum anode, creating a current. Because the rise of aluminum did not appear to degrade much over time, scientists believe that the latter explanation is more likely than the former.

Although algae rely on a light source to feed, the biosystem continued to generate enough power to operate the microprocessor in the dark. Scientists have attributed this phenomenon to debris. When there was light, the cyanobacteria cooked too much food, and when it was dark, the microorganisms continued to nibble on the extra.

The computer, a microprocessor called Arm Cortex-M0 +, pumped an average of 1.05 microwatts and 1.4 microamperes of electricity, with a voltage of 0.72 V from the blue cube during the experiment. For comparison, a standard AA battery starts its life with 1.5 V, which decreases with use.

While the results of the experiment are promising, it is important to keep in mind that the computer processor tested consumes very little power — requiring only 0.3 microwatts to operate. For the environment, even an energy efficient LED lamp uses approx 10 watts. More research is needed to know exactly how much the tiny AA battery-sized device could grow, said Howe Young Scientist. “Putting one on your roof will not provide power to your home at this stage.”

Updated 13/5/2022, 5:08 p.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional comments from the biochemist and researcher of the study, Paolo Bombelli.

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