This Computer is Powered by Algae!

It has already been running for over a year.

Jun 14, 2022
This Computer is Powered by Algae! | It has already been running for over a year.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have been able to power a small computer for over a year using algae as the machine’s electrical source. This low-energy computer runs solely on water and light and could facilitate a greener way to power billions of internet-connected devices, according to the researchers. 

The BBC has the scoop on the AA battery-sized system which contains a type of algae called Synechocystis, used to power the working computer. Algae are defined as a large diverse group of aquatic organisms with many of its 27,000 species resembling plants, like seaweed. And like plants, algae undergo photosynthesis to harvest the sun's energy to produce their own food. 

A photosynthesis-powered computer chip
Photosynthesis is a chemical reaction that occurs inside plants and algae to help them break down carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight into sugar and energy. Through this chemical process, oxygen is created and released into the atmosphere for animals and humans to survive on earth. 

Researchers at the University of Cambridge thought that the energy collected and stored from the sun could be powerful enough to make a computer run, much like electricity, according to a report by New Scientist magazine. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by World Economic Forum (@worldeconomicforum)

The scientists sealed a colony of the Synechocystis inside a metal enclosure and left it on a windowsill in their laboratory for the algae to absorb sunlight and photosynthesize. The collected energy passed through an aluminum electrode inside the metal box in order to generate an electrical current. The current was then successfully able to power a small computer chip, according to the magazine. 

Unlike batteries, there is no expiration date on photosynthesis
Although the computer is quite small, its potential to power internet-devices could be great, the researchers remarked of their project. Professor Christopher Howe, one of the scientific leaders of the group said in a University of Cambridge press release, that “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.”. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the huge network of electronic devices that collect and share real-time data via the internet. However, the IoT is drastically increasing and by 2035 there will be an estimated trillion devices connected. These will require an enormous amount of portable energy sources, according to the BBC. 

Harnessing energy from the sun is continuous and it’s why Howe and his team are proud of their “photosynthetic device [that] doesn’t run down the way a battery does because it’s continually using light as the energy source,” Howe says in the press statement. 

This exciting research not only offers new ways to source energy, but an innovative approach to utilizing nature and its own biological processes to give a greener and more renewable solution to conserve and use energy. 

Airplanes May Soon be Using Algae to Fly
Clean Fuel May Come Straight From the Sea
Who Knew That a Simple Washing Machine Could Make a Real Difference

Yael has a passion for research and discovery and devoted her studies to science. She is fascinated by anything technology related and how it can improve people’s lives. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, swimming and storytelling.