Will Cyanobacteria Replace Batteries in the Future?

Researchers powered a computer microprocessor for more than six months with the energy produced by a cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) colony.
Researchers powered a computer microprocessor for more than six months with the energy produced by a cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) colony.

You're familiar with AA batteries and AAA batteries, but what about algae batteries? University of Cambridge researchers used a colony of cyanobacteria – single-celled organisms also known as blue-green algae – to run a microprocessor for over six months, suggesting that cyanobacteria could be a simple and sustainable energy source for the future.

Granted, the Arm Cortex M0+ processor didn't require a lot of power, but still, using only sunlight and water, the little metal-enclosed, cyanobacteria-filled device managed to provide sufficient energy for the microprocessor to continuously perform calculations. The researchers set the device on a windowsill, expecting it to run out fairly quickly. Instead, it continued for months without interruption and did so even when no sunlight was present.

"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 Paolo Bombelli, the study's lead author. While more work lies ahead, the researchers said success would mean an energy source that can support long-lasting use with minimal effort and is significantly better for the environment than other batteries.

All about algae:

  • Although cyanobacteria are widely known as blue-green algae, most biologists don't classify them as algae as they are prokaryotes (single-celled organisms).

  • Algae produce at least 71 percent of the Earth's oxygen and remove much of the carbon dioxide.

  • In 2012, algae biofuel was used to power a commercial airline flight for the first time.

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    • Researchers powered a computer microprocessor for more than six months with the energy produced by a cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) colony.
      Researchers powered a computer microprocessor for more than six months with the energy produced by a cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) colony.