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Scientists Use Algae To Power A Computer Continuously For A Year

Scientists have powered a computer continuously for a year using only the electrical current generated by algae. The system, created by the University of Cambridge, has potential as a reliable and renewable way to power small devices. Comparable in size to an AA battery, the system contains a type of non-toxic algae called Synechocystis that naturally harvests energy from the sun through photosynthesis. The tiny electrical current this generates then interacts with an aluminium electrode and is used to power a microprocessor. The system is made of common, inexpensive and largely recyclable materials. This means it could easily be replicated hundreds of thousands of times to power large numbers of small devices as part of the Internet of Things. 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. In the experiment, the device was used to power an Arm Cortex M0+, which is a microprocessor used widely in Internet of Things devices. It operated in a domestic environment and semi-outdoor conditions under natural light and associated temperature fluctuations. “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,” said Dr Paolo Bombelli in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Biochemistry, first author of the paper. The algae does not need feeding, because it creates its own food as it photosynthesises. And despite the fact that photosynthesis requires light, the device can even continue producing power during periods of darkness. Researchers think this is because the algae processes some of its food when there’s no light, and this continues to generate an electrical current.

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