Scientists at Cambridge University have created a computer that can be powered solely by algae.
Science researchers used a widespread species of blue-green algae to power a microprocessor continuously for a year using nothing but ambient light and water.
The super computer system has the potential to offer a renewable way to power small devices. The system, which has been compared in size to an AA battery, contains a type of non-toxic algae called Synechocystis. This algae uses photosynthesis to create an electrical current that interacts with an aluminium electrode and is used to power a microprocessor.
The system doesn't need much maintenance either, as it ultimately creates its own energy and food via the photosynthesis system. While photosynthesis does require light, the computer can still power up at night or in darkness as the system stores some of its food to process when there is no light.
The tiny computer system is also being praised for its relatively low impact on the environment as it utilises inexpensive and largely recyclable materials. The design is thought to be easy to replicate, and the research team believe the system could be reproduced thousands of times to power large numbers of small devices as part of the Internet of Things. The researchers say it is likely to be most useful in off-grid situations or remote locations, where small amounts of power can be very beneficial.
The findings of the algae-inspired research were first published in a research paper by the renowned university. Professor Christopher Howe in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, one of the joint senior authors of the paper, wrote: '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."
He added: “Our photosynthetic device doesn’t run down the way a battery does because it’s continually using light as the energy source.”
The science experiment was first created within a domestic environment and tested over six months. Dr Paolo Bombelli in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, the first author of the research paper, said: "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."
The system, which can be classed as part of the growing network of Internet of Things, joins other systems including low-cost computer chips and wireless networks. All items within the network use only a small amount of power and the many billions of devices in this network are expected to grow. In fact, the number is expected to grow to one trillion devices by 2035.
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