Can algae power computers? A new study indicates that it is a sustainable source of energy to come

Innovation is all around us, and a recent study from 2022 published in the journal Energy and Environmental Sciences reveals that algae are a potential source of sustainable energy. It’s definitely something to get excited about!

According to our research, one of the main environmental problems is the heavy dependence on fossil fuels, which lead to significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. This means that energy is an immediate area where sustainability can be improved at a fundamental level.

Fortunately, we are seeing new technologies and innovations emerge, and these innovations are helping us to become independent from traditional and unsustainable sources of energy. Instead, they ensure that we build renewable, environmentally friendly infrastructure that will last.

We have already seen innovations in solar energy, wind energy, hydroelectricity, etc. And now, researchers have created a “bio-photovoltaic energy harvesting system” using photosynthetic microorganisms, ie algae. Let’s break down the study.

How can algae power computers, anyway?

Photo: University of Cambridge, Howe Laboratory

So how did this study work? Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are a photosynthetic microorganism. A type of blue-green algae called Synechocyst was placed in a container the size of an AA battery, made of aluminum and transparent plastic, and filled with water.

Essentially, the photosynthesis undergone by this algae (when hit by sunlight) was converted into usable energy by working with aluminum electrodes. And this process could power a microprocessor for more than six months!

As previously mentioned above, aluminum was used in the process to bring it all to life. The researchers deliberately chose aluminum because it is one of the most abundant metals on Earth; We have many in our current manufacturing system that are ready to be recycled.

And the whole system is made of inexpensive recyclable materials, which means it can be easily recreated and can potentially power a lot of small devices. According to the University of Cambridge study, this would be particularly useful in “off-grid or remote locations” where electrical power sources are scarce.

Researchers hope this technology can be made efficient enough to replace the batteries currently powering something called the Internet of Things (IoT), which is responsible for exchanging digital information from Internet-connected products that exist all around us in our daily lives. and it’s growing fast.

The IoT is typically powered by lithium-ion batteries, which are made from harvested materials like precious metals and create waste. However, the researchers say that powering this large system, i.e. powering trillions of IoT devices, using lithium-ion batteries is “impractical” and unsustainable.

The results are also optimistic for the implementation of the new aluminum anode bio-photovoltaic technology to power small electronic devices in the future. This could be a major victory for the environment.

However, technology does not have the power to make something like a laptop or a phone work on its own. At least not yet. But researchers are looking for ways to improve efficiency and drive breakthrough discoveries.

We are sure to see more research on the subject appear in this rapidly evolving field. In the meantime, we will continue to discover how we can develop a sustainable and robust energy future with adjacent energy options like solar and nuclear power.

Hi! Want to help us change the world every day with easy, doable, and eco-friendly tips and tricks? Sign up for the Brightly Spot and join our movement of over a million changemakers.