Researchers have used a common and widespread species of blue-green non-toxic algae to power a microprocessor continuously for a year - and counting - using nothing but ambient light and water. Their system has potential as a reliable and renewable way to power devices.
Cambridge researchers have developed a battery system (roughly the size of an AA battery) with a type of algae called Synechocystis that naturally takes in solar energy by photosynthesis. Remarkably, this produces a small electrical current that interacts with the aluminum electrode attached to the system and powers the microprocessor.
Not only does the system operate on what is essentially biological and very renewable energy, it is made largely of recyclable materials, meaning it could be easily replicated and scaled to be much larger. According to researchers - whose study was published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science - this sort of technology would be particularly useful for isolated devices that need can't be powered by the electrical grid.
“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,” says biochemist Christopher Howe, joint senior author of the paper. He added: “Our photosynthetic device doesn’t run down the way a battery does because it’s continually using light as the energy source.” That being said, it can still produce energy after the sun has gone down, just not as much.
This union of algae and tech could be used in a myriad of applications and could play a vital role in future initiatives to power essential technology in remote locations, like a desalination unit in a remote seaside village.