Scientists create microcomputer powered by algae

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have created a prototype computer powered by photosynthetic algae.

As first spotted by new scientist, the researchers created a metal enclosure the size of an AA battery and sealed a “widespread species” of blue-green algae into the unit. Instead of using traditional batteries or solar power, the algae is photosynthesized, allowing the unit to generate a small current of electricity, which powers the ARM Cortex-M0+ chip inside the device .

According to the outlet, the device was left on the windowsill of a researcher’s house for six months. Further noting that the algae-powered computer continued to function for another six months after official testing was completed.

An image of the computer powered by algae.  |  (Image credit: Paolo Bombelli / Creative Commons)

An image of the computer powered by algae. | (Image credit: Paolo Bombelli / Creative Commons)

“We were impressed with how consistently the system worked over a long period – we thought it might stop after a few weeks, but it kept going,” said Dr Paolo Bombelli, one of the authors. of the item. Press release.

The algae-powered ARM chip consumed 0.3 microwatts per hour, which means this computer doesn’t use enough watts of power compared to an average PC. While computer power consumption varies depending on several factors, the average power consumption for a desktop computer is 60 to 250 watts, depending on Northwestern University Information Technology.

The device itself is a proof of concept, but the research team hopes it could be the future of Internet of Things devices. The device using solar power instead of batteries may have a lower environmental impact, with the study being conducted part of a wider area of ​​research known as ‘biophotovoltaics’, which focuses on creating clean energy using microorganisms.

“The growth of the Internet of Things needs an increasing amount of energy, and we believe that will need to come from systems that can generate energy, rather than just store it like batteries,” said Professor Christopher Howe, co-lead author of the paper. Press release. “Our photosynthetic apparatus does not discharge like a battery, because it continually uses light as its energy source.”

Professor Howe told New Scientist that more research needed to be done to determine how to expand the project. And while we’re years away before things like this can be applied to everyday objects, it’s interesting to think of a gaming PC powered by the plant-like aquatic organisms I see at the moment. surface of my local pond.

Taylor is Associate Technical Writer at IGN. You can follow her on Twitter @TayNixster.

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