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Scientists at Cambridge University Develop an Algae-Powered Microcomputer

For six months, scientists utilised algae to power this low-energy computer chip

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Scientists at Cambridge University Develop an Algae-Powered Microcomputer

Scientists at Cambridge University have developed a prototype algae microcomputer powered by photosynthetic algae. For six months, scientists utilised algae to power this low-energy computer chip.

A colony of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, was confined inside a metal box the size of an AA battery by University of Cambridge researchers. According to New Scientist, the device was then placed on a windowsill, where the algae photosynthesized, producing a small amount of electricity that powered an ARM Cortex-M0+ chip.

Although the technology is still a proof of concept, its creators hope algae-powered chips might be used in future Internet of Things devices. They say that using algae instead of traditional batteries or solar power has a lesser environmental impact and can provide continuous electricity.

“The growing Internet of Things needs an increasing amount of power, and we think this will have to come from systems that can generate energy, rather than simply store it like batteries,” stated Professor Christopher Howe, co-senior author of the paper, in a press release. “Our photosynthetic device doesn’t run down the way a battery does because it’s continually using light as the energy source.”

According to New Scientist, the algae-powered ARM chip was utilised to do extremely simple computations while consuming only 0.3 microwatts per hour. Although the energy consumption of standard computers varies depending on factors such as workload and age, it is a fraction of the power required to run an ordinary PC. If a typical desktop computer consumes 100 watts of electricity each hour, it would require around 333,000,000 algae “batteries” to power it.

The specialists behind the concept will undoubtedly need to scale up their solution, but they believe that the fundamental characteristics of algae power generation are optimistic. The algae utilised by the researchers did not require feeding because it acquired all of its energy from natural sunlight and was able to create power at night based on energy stored during the day, according to the researchers.

“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, the paper’s first author, in a news release.

Although employing algae in this manner is unheard of, it is part of a developing field of study known as “biophotovoltaics.” The field’s goal is to harness the power provided by biological microorganisms that transform light into energy naturally through photosynthesis.

Although this method is incredibly inefficient, with plants collecting only 0.25 percent of sunlight’s energy (compared to 20 percent in solar panels), supporters argue that biophotovoltaic energy systems might be inexpensive and ecologically acceptable. They see enormous floating “lily pads” covered with algae serving as mobile power stations alongside offshore wind farms in the future.

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