We need energy in the modern world to power electronics, transportation, and more. And our need for more efficient forms of electricity is dictating modern innovation.
Anything that promises better, more efficient energy production is wanted big time – which is why a recent energy breakthrough using algae is a pretty big deal.
How an Algae-Powered Battery Ran a Computer for Six Months
Recently, researchers at the University of Cambridge revealed that they successfully used an algae-powered battery to charge a computer for six months.
The setup was surprisingly simple: The researchers used blue-green algae in the experiment to perform photosynthesis with light and water that generated a tiny electrical current which passed on to an aluminum electrode that powered the microprocessor.
As you can imagine, a study like this holds a lot of promise! As energy sustainability becomes increasingly important because of environmental concerns, scientists are looking for sustainable and natural ways to create energy.
Why Algae-Powered Batteries Could Be Significant Going Forward
The algae-powered battery is a photovoltaic (light-based electrical) cell which uses biological materials comparable in size to an AA battery. But unlike your regular lithium-ion batteries, the cell is made mainly from recyclable materials and does not need any rare earth elements like lithium.
Extracting rare earth metals is an expensive, energy-intensive process that adversely affects the environment. However, the secret ingredient of this algae-powered battery is energy from the sun harvested through photosynthesis. This energy goes on to generate a current that interacts with an aluminum electrode that powers microprocessors, as shown in the Cambridge experiment.
The algae-powered battery doesn’t shut down at night, either. Even though photosynthesis uses light, the battery continued to work after sundown. Researchers chalked this up to the fact that algae continue to process food even when there is no light.
The system even works in semi-outdoor and domestic environments, as well as with fluctuating temperatures.
And, no one expected the battery to power the computer for as long as it did. Researchers involved with the experiment expected the battery to work for no more than a few weeks, but it kept going for six months.
Given these benefits and the disadvantages of lithium-ion batteries, there’s certainly hope that more sustainable, algae-driven power sources could meet today’s needs.
After all, algae don’t require mining, which makes it cheaper to produce, it lacks the inherent risks that come with lithium-ion batteries like fires, and it actually generates electricity rather than simply storing it.
While the future is promising, we can’t expect blue-green algae to completely usurp rare earth metals as our go-to source for power just yet.
This algae-powered battery may currently only be capable of powering small devices and would need to be replicated hundreds, if not thousands, of times in different systems to work out kinks.
Expect the lithium-ion battery to maintain its place at the top of the hill until further advancements are made in alternate directions.
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