This computer runs on pond scum


This swamp thing is nothing to fear.

University of Cambridge scientists have designed a way to create electricity out of pond scum — which they believe could be a far more “practical” solution to powering small devices than conventional and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

Their lean, green technology, which is about the size of a AA battery, was enough to power a low-energy computer chip that’s found in tens of billions of small devices across the globe.

As reported by The Verge, it would take about 333 million algae “batteries” to run an average desktop computer.

Constructed out of cheap and largely recyclable materials, the easily replicable technology could be used to power the so-called “Internet of Things,” a vast global network of small devices exchanging data in real-time.

“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,” Christopher Howe, professor of biochemistry and joint senior author of the paper, said in a university press release.

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

Researchers explained that the blue-green algae, called Synechocystism, is fueled by photosynthesis, generating a modest electrical current that’s processed through an aluminum electrode.

Countless gadgets included in the ever-present “Internet of Things” — anything from personal smart devices like phones, watches and surveillance cameras, to critical tools used in public services, such as temperature gauges at power stations — are linked by a common microchip processor called the Cortex M, developed by Arm Holdings, and frequently powered by lithium-ion batteries.

But Cambridge researchers declared this an “impractical” approach compared to their pond scum protocol, which forged enough electrical current for an Arm Cortex M0+, the most energy-efficient chip in Arm’s lineup of microprocessors.

By 2035, experts expect to see trillions of devices hooked up to the “Internet of Things,” requiring three times more lithium than we’re mining now. Plus, lithium-ion batteries are notably hazardous.

The beauty of photosynthesis, of course, is that the algae is self-sufficient — creating food out of even low levels of sunlight, and can even sustain a current during periods of darkness.

Once the device had successfully operated under natural light for six months in semi-outdoor conditions, researchers submitted their findings to the journal of Energy & Environmental Science, where it was published on Monday — now a year since the algae-powered processor was first turned on.

“We were impressed by how consistently the system worked over a long period of time,” said Dr. Paolo Bombelli, Cambridge researcher and first author of the paper. “We thought it might stop after a few weeks but it just kept going.”



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