What’s the size of an AA battery and can run an ARM Cortex M0+ for six months? Well… probably an AA battery, but obviously, that wouldn’t be worth mentioning. But researchers at Cambridge have built a cell of blue-green algae that can do the job.
As you might expect, the algae need light, since they generate energy through photosynthesis. However, unlike conventional solar cells, the algae continue to produce energy in the dark at least for a while. Presumably, the algae store energy during the day and release it at night to survive naturally-occurring periods of darkness.
Generating power from photosynthesis isn’t a new idea since photosynthesis releases electrons. A typical cell has gold electrodes and a proton exchange membrane of some kind. You can see a video from Cambridge below about generating electricity from photosynthesis. Keep in mind, of course, that the Cortex M0+ is capable of very low power operation. Don’t look for that algae-powered spot welder anytime soon.
People tend to get fixated on electricity as energy, but there are other ways to harness photosynthesis. For example, we’ve seen algae fueling a chicken hole in the past. Not to mention we’ve seen algae used to power a robot in a novel and non-electrical way.