Feeding a microprocessor with algae? A team led by an Italian succeeded

Feeding a microprocessor with algae? A team led by an Italian succeeded

A system made with common, economical, recyclable materials, with dimensions similar to those of a classic battery. A technological application capable of powering a microprocessor continuously for over a year using only light and water. An important innovation to power the myriad of small devices that populate the galaxy of the Internet of Things. These are the results of a study published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge led by the Italian Paolo Bombelli, also a professor at the University of Milan.

Artificial intelligence, Iot and 5G boost business productivity "The growing presence of the Internet of Things needs an increasing amount of energy and we think this will have to come from systems capable of generating energy, rather than simply store it as batteries, "said Christopher Howe, professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study.

This new technology application could indeed serve the billions of IoT devices that are expected to grow to a trillion by 2035 and will need a large number of portable power sources. sportsgaming.win interviewed Paolo Bombelli to better understand the potential of this new device.

What it is "It is more correct to call our system an algae solar panel rather than a battery", explains the researcher first of all Italian who led the research team. In fact, there is also talk of bio-photovoltaics considering this type of innovation, as explained for example in another article by the researchers in the same journal.

Generally speaking, it is the first microprocessor that receives energy from blue algae. Or rather, a genus of cyanobacteria called Synechocystis. It consists of a small container with water, cyanobacteria and an aluminum anode that collects the electrons generated during photosynthesis. And it's a large-scale reproducible system. Here is one of the first images of this panel.

Al-Anode mini-device - Credits P. Bombelli

Is it an energy solution with a sustainable impact? Considering that a system of this type could in the future contribute to partially solving large supply problems of rare earths or lithium, essential for making batteries similar to AA cells, it is important to understand the sustainability of this alternative biological power supply. Because the fact that the system uses algae could have an impact on the ecosystem, even if certainly much less than the mining of any type of resource.

"Spirulina used as a food supplement is like Synechocystis: a blue-green alga. There are cultivations of Spirulina in many parts of the world, including Italy and

the growth of this alga has an environmental impact comparable to the growth of vegetables in greenhouses ", explains Paolo Bombelli

What is needed to create these aquatic plants? Light, water, carbon dioxide and some minerals (for example, iron) are enough. On the impact of using a large amount of these elements to create many energy sources, “we are not yet at an industrial level, so I don't know how to answer in terms of quantity”, admits the researcher. In the test, the new biological solar cells powered an Arm Cortex M0 +, a microprocessor widely used in IoT devices. The system worked perfectly in a home environment and in natural light conditions. This is important because it means that it does not have the limitations given by the discharge of an ordinary battery. A very important aspect in terms of reuse and procurement, and therefore in terms of sustainability. Furthermore, the device appears to be able to produce energy even in the dark. Researchers think this is because cyanobacteria continue to feed even without light, thus continuing to generate an electric current.

Why use algae instead of a battery? Bombelli explains that they chose to work with Synechocystis because it is a laboratory model, but that the research team will test other organisms in the future. Which? “In general, oxygenic photosynthetic organisms (eg, mosses, plants) can be potential alternatives. But I underline the fact that there are thousands of species of algae that could be tested ”. It is not yet time: "We will continue to do work to improve understanding of the process. And at the same time the existing system, trying to make it optimal for some specific applications.

Talking about timing is difficult, it depends on many factors. I'll do my best to have 'semi-commercial' prototypes in a few years "promises the researcher.

A new battery could solve the energy storage problem Researchers have made a prototype capable of of storing energy for months, using a freezing and melting technique The hypothesis of a domestic production Since it is an aquatic plant, a fascinating hypothesis is to understand if tomorrow, more or less distant, it will be possible to self-produce home these algae. Thus creating generative possibilities of low cost solar panels. “If you leave a container full of water in the garden for a few weeks, there is a very good chance that the water will turn green. And therefore there is the formation of algae (probably of the Chlorella type, but it depends on the geographical location) ”, specifies the Italian researcher. On the other hand, there is still a great distance between the production of aquatic plants and the final result tested by the team: “Producing algae at home is simple: all you need is a small aquarium. That said, the algae alone do not give the current, it also serves the electrochemical system as described in our work ".

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