Scientists Powered a Computer With Algae

Scientists powered a computer with algae for over a year. The power source, which we saw on Gizmodo, is about the size of an AA battery. The researchers grew algae on an aluminum anode. It requires sun for photosynthesis and creates an electric current as it feeds and grows.

Algae was studied as a way to power the Internet of Things, connected devices that share data like fitness trackers and security cameras. It’s estimated that by 2035 there will be 1 trillion in the world, each needing a power source. While algae isn’t scalable to this challenge yet, this research is a huge step in that direction.

The battery powered by algae is the size of an AA battery
Paolo Bombelli

The peer-reviewed journal Energy & Environmental Science published the results. The scientists ran the experiment during the pandemic so instead of a lab setup, one of them took it home and put it in their window. The power cell connects to a microprocessor called an Arm Cortex M0+. In turn, that connects to a Raspberry Pi computer. The microprocessor is a low-energy device, requiring about 0.3 microwatts. For comparison, a 10 watt lightbulb is equivalent to 10,000,000 microwatts. The next step is to scale up the algae power source.

Algae is already used as a biofuel. The video below from the U.S. Department of Energy shows off its potential to run the same gas and diesel engines we already have. Some algae farms are right next to power plants and oil refineries, where the carbon dioxide fumes from those factories feed the algae. There’s also a brewery that uses algae to absorb the carbon dioxide made in the brewing process.

Current battery materials are hazardous and unsustainable. They also lose their charge over time. More research into environmentally-friendly options, like human sweat and algae, is needed to find sustainable options.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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