Can Algae Charge Your Smartphone?

Updated: Aug 30

An article by Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine May 17, 2022. Full article here.


The Internet of Things (IoT) is an ever-growing ecosystem. Every device that can connect to the Internet is part of the IoT – a number which is currently in the billions and set to rocket into the trillions in 2035. To power that number of devices would require three times more lithium than the earth produced in the year 2017. Environmentalists and scientists are rightfully concerned about how these devices are going to be powered in a sustainable way.

An exciting new development may hold possibilities for future renewable energy sources. Researchers at the University of Cambridge are celebrating their recent success at powering a computer for over a month with a photosynthetic algae known as Synechocystis. The cyanobacteria system, roughly the size of a AA battery and made out of aluminum and clear plastic, was tested in research scientist Paolo Bombelli’s home during the 2021 COVID-19 lockdown.


The algae battery, which was connected to a microprocessor and left in a window, provided the computer with energy from February to August for cycles of 45 minutes of computing time and 15 minutes of standby! Bombelli admitted his surprise at the longevity of the system, having expected it to power down within a few weeks.


While there is still a lot of work to be done on this cyanobacteria system, researchers are hopeful for its potential. Read the full article here.

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