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Internet of Things Could Soon Be Algae Powered

The future of computer power could be hidden in pond scum, as scientists from the University of Cambridge have discovered.

University scientists developed a computer that continuously generates electricity via algae and photosynthesis. The computer was around the size of an AA battery and was left to sit on a windowsill.

Researchers explained that the photosynthesis process generates a small electrical current, which they then harnessed via an aluminium electrode.

At this stage, the computer is no more than a proof of concept but could one day be a very real solution to the ever-growing power demands of the Internet of Things, with an increasing number of connected devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, cars, televisions, cameras, appliances and much more.

Credit: MarTech

“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,” explained Professor of biochemistry and joint senior author of the study Christopher Howe.

Currently, the Cortex M microchip processor found in devices making up the Internet of Things are generally powered by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries have been found to be rather dangerous, and the mining of resources to create them is harmful to the environment.

Cambridge researchers ruled this as an “impractical” approach, stating that their pond scum solution made much more senses, as their tiny proof of concept was able to power the Arm Cortex M0+, which is the most energy-efficient of Arm’s microprocessor chips.

“Our photosynthetic device doesn’t run down the way a battery does because it’s continually using light as the energy source,” states Christopher Howe.

Experts suggest that the Internet of Things will be made up of trillions of devices, and the lithium requirement will be three of what it is now.

The algae powered computer was a massive success, proving to be a truly viable source of renewable energy.

Cambridge researcher and first author of the paper Dr. Paolo Bombelli said that they “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.” It has been running for over a year now.


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