This Algae-Powered Computer Has Been Running for Over a Year

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Witthaya Prasongsin

Witthaya Prasongsin

The device you’re reading this article on right now likely uses a lithium-ion battery. While that technology is great for doing things like reading well-written science articles, it comes at a high price, is in limited supply, and has a disastrous impact on our environment.

That’s why scientists are on the search for a renewable and eco-friendly way to power our devices—and one of those attempts just happens to involve algae. (Yes, the green stuff that grows in the water.)

Researchers at The University of Cambridge have created a computer powered completely by the aquatic plant—and even ran it for more than a year. In a new study published Thursday in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, the team used a common species of blue algae known as Synechocytis that gains electricity from the sun via photosynthesis. The small electric current that this process creates was then channeled into an electrode, which powered a microprocessor.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>This system, containing blue-green algae, powered a microprocessor continuously for a year using nothing but ambient light and water.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">PAOLO BOMBELLI</div>

This system, containing blue-green algae, powered a microprocessor continuously for a year using nothing but ambient light and water.

PAOLO BOMBELLI

Over the course of a year, the algae-powered computer (roughly the size of an AA battery) sat in a semi-outdoor environment with plenty of sunlight. There, it repeated a simple mathematical operation over and over in order for the researchers to prove the concept. Interestingly, the device even ran at night since the algae is able to process food when it’s dark.

Due to the device’s minute size and ability to generate a small amount of electricity, the researchers believe that it has a wide range of applications such as being a viable power supply for preppers and campers. They also believe it could come in handy in the future as the world grapples with a lithium-ion battery shortage that has hamstrung the tech industry, leading to widespread supply-chain issues with products like electric cars, cell phones, and laptops.

“I imagine a future where this technology could be a source of power for small electronic devices located off-grid perhaps also in remote locations,” Paolo Bombelli, a post-doctoral researcher of biochemistry at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the paper, told The Daily Beast via email. He later added, “In my futuristic view, I could foresee [having] algae-driven charging stations for mobile phones located in remote locations instead of charging cars in our cities.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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