University of Cambridge researchers successfully used algae to power a computer chip for six months. The blue-green algae perform photosynthesis and generate a small electrical current that “interacts with an aluminum electrode and is used to power a microprocessor,” according to an official release.
The study, published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, marks a significant step toward creating more sustainable batteries. The system is about the same size as your household AA battery, but it doesn’t have rare earth metals like lithium that require gnarly, energy-intensive mining. It’s also made from recyclable materials.
The little algae that could — The algae system used in this experiment provided consistent power for six months, using the sun’s energy during the day via photosynthesis and continuing to provide energy in the dark, too, as the algae broke down its food.
“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,” said Professor Christopher Howe, one of the senior authors of the paper, in a public statement.
“We thought it might stop after a few weeks but it just kept going,” said first author Dr. Paolo Bombelli in a release.
Not revolutionary just yet — Don’t expect algae to usurp the power supply as we know it — it’s not time to convert your apartment into an energy farm. Not yet, at least.
The researchers behind the study believe the technology could be a reliable way to power small devices, particularly in rural areas without reliable energy. But as The Verge points out, it would take about 333 million of these algae batteries to power a normal desktop computer; the Arm Cortex M0+, the microprocessor that the cyanobacteria powers, is just a small, energy-efficient device used in IoT devices.
One compelling application that Bombelli mentioned to Vice is a remote phone charging station powered by algae. Talk about green energy.