Computer powered by blue-green algae 6 months

Metal and plastic containers filled with green liquid

There is “green energy” and then there is true green energy, or rather, blue-green energy. Colonies of colorful photosynthetic cyanobacteria known as blue-green algae have successfully powered computer microprocessors for more than six months, according to reports. A study published Thursday in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

This small bio-based battery alternative could serve as a way to power small electronics without the need for rare earth elements and lithium materials in short supply and under growing demand, according to the researchers.In addition, the system could help bridge the electricity divide and provide an alternative supply of electricity to people in rural areas or low-income countries, the senior author said. Chris Howea biochemist at the University of Cambridge, in press statement.

Algae computer system placed in another Cambridge biochemist’s window during pandemic lockdown, the home of Paul Bombelli.It reportedly sat there from February 2021 to August 2021 and has been working reported from new six additional months after official test, scientists say Algae Equipment and Computers Keep running.

Although the microprocessor was disconnected, the cyanobacterial device continued to generate electricity. “It’s still running and I hope it’s running for a long time. Given With the right conditions of light, temperature and water, I can’t predict when it will stop,” Bombelli said in an email to Gizmodo. Gizmodo says to it: great way to microbes!

Cyanobacteria get energy from sunlight and make it into their own food.In this study, researchers will provide energy-supplying microorganisms (specifically Synechocystis sp.) into a plastic and steel case, about the size of an AA battery, and an aluminum anode.

Throughout the experiment, the connected microprocessor was programmed to do a bunch of a calculations, and then check its own work. It did this in 45 minute increments, followed by 15 minutes of standby, continuously for months with the cyanobacteria unit as its only power source.

two people in a lab

The researchers offered two hypotheses for how their system created current. In the so-called “electrochemical” model, the microbes simply produced the right conditions for the aluminum anode to oxidize—or release electrons, which then create an electrical output. In the “bio-electrochemical” model, the cyanobacteria themselves generated electrons which transferred across bacterial membranes to the aluminum anode, making a current. Because the aluminum anode didn’t seem to degrade much over time, the scientists think the latter explanation is more likely than the former.

Even though the algae rely on a light source to feed, the bio-system continued to produce enough power to run the microprocessor in the dark. The scientists basically attributed this phenomenon to leftovers. When there was light, the cyanobacteria cooked up an over-abundance of food, and when it was dark the microorganisms kept munching on the extras.

The computer, a microprocessor called the Arm Cortex-M0+, drew an average 1.05 microwatts, and an electrical current of 1.4 microamps, with a voltage of 0.72 V from the cyano-cube over the course of the experiment. For comparison, a standard AA battery starts out its life with 1.5V, that lessens with usage.

Though the experiment’s results are promising, it’s important to keep in mind that the computer processor tested uses very little energy—requiring only 0.3 microwatts to run. For context, even an energy efficient, LED lightbulb uses about 10 watts. More research is needed to know exactly how much this tiny AA battery-sized device can scale up, Howe told new scientist. “Putting one on your roof won’t provide power to your house at this stage.”

Updated May 13, 2022 5:08 PM ET: This article has been updated with additional comments from biochemist and research researcher Paolo Bombelli.

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