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A character needs to build a computer out of raw materials in a bronze age.
He has a nano scale factory, so manufacturing chips and such from silicon is possible, but I'm not sure of the best way to power it without resorting to something stupid like "And then he built a fusion reactor".

I've considered some kind of battery (like the Baghdad battery) but it seems voltages would be to low to be believable.

I've also recently considered some kind of vat grown biological computer, powered by protein and glucose, but once again don't know if that makes sense.

Edit:
The factory is kind of a grey goo style nano-tech. Break down raw materials to build other things, but unable to provide power to anything else.

Edit 2:
The character is from an advanced civilization, studying a bronze age civilization. It only resembles StarGate in the broad description.

Edit 3:
Apparently my creativity was jammed up worse than I thought!

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    $\begingroup$ Voltages will not be an issue, with conductors of sufficiently low resistance you can simply put many of them in series. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Jan 26 '15 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ If he's got a nanoscale factory that can build computer chips, why can't he use it to build solar panels? $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jan 26 '15 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ 'computer' not found in bronze age. Did you mean 'abacus'? $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jan 26 '15 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ If your Nano can figure out how to make proper computer chip semi-conductors and boards reliably, it can sure as heck figure out how to make solar panels, wind and water turbines, and alcohol based engines, etc., etc. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Jan 26 '15 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ If you have a way of controlling and powering your nanorobots, then a nanorobot is an ideal element of your computer. Actually in many modern speculative designs nanorobots have a low power computer inside them. $\endgroup$ – Vashu Dec 6 '16 at 23:18
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If you have the nanotech to build a computer, you should be able to create chargers from heat. We don't really have nanotech that can build major things, but we do have beginning tech that might soon trickle charge a cell phone from body heat.

Being able to create a system that can do this should be possible with the nanotech. could even make it to convert from a hot source such as a fire.

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh yeah! I forgot about this: biolitestove.com/products/basecamp $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jan 26 '15 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 That's cool I hadn't seen that one yet. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jan 26 '15 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ I really like the idea of heat exchange mixed with geo-thermal... $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jan 26 '15 at 20:37
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Manpower! If there is one thing the bronze age has, it's plentiful muscle...unless Hollywood lies to me. I find something pleasing in the idea of using a bunch of muscle bound brutes pushing on wooden levers to turn a gigantic turbine (Conan the barbarian style) to power something as futuristic high tech like a nano factory...and you wouldn't have an initial power need like hydrogen fuel cells, just basic components that are quite likely in use already.

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    $\begingroup$ Hehe, it doesn't really fit this story, but it would be very amusing to put into a story. "He's starting Call of Duty! Push harder men!" $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jan 26 '15 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273: You joke, but wattage draw could make a huge difference on your power generation requirements ;) $\endgroup$ – Wingman4l7 Dec 26 '15 at 5:18
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It looks like the focus of this question is not on the creation of the computer itself, but on how to reliably provide power for it. So, I'll answer that.

As alluded to in a comment on another answer, an array of thermoelectric modules would be a great solution for providing a nice clean supply of electricity, and would run off pretty much anything you could burn to create a sufficient temperature differential. However, they're made of exotic semiconductors. Now, if you are also constructing the computer, then you can build these easily, or the same kinds of doped semiconductors that photovoltaic cells are made of, and then you're done -- but that's boring! What if your nanites could only do more simple construction? The problem is two-fold: power generation & power storage.

For power generation, the main things you’ll need are copper wire for the stator windings and permanent magnets for the rotor. Getting a sufficient quantity of refined copper to work into wire would definitely be a challenge (see the later part of my answer for a possible solution), but my gut tells me that permanent magnets of sufficient size and quality might prove to be your biggest challenge; you could use perhaps try have your nanites refine naturally-occurring lodestone. * applies handwavium * Presuming that you could manufacture a simple electric generator, the problem then becomes one of turning the rotor.

You've got several options for this; obvious choices would be a water wheel or a windmill, depending on the topography & weather of your location. Strictly speaking, the Bronze Age began around 3000 BCE and the earliest examples of this technology being practically applied were the 3rd century BCE and the 9th century AD respectively, so you'd definitely need to bootstrap some local advances in woodworking & stonemasonry, but your time traveller has obviously brought with them other advanced engineering concepts, so these would not be incongruous.

Other than that, a clever low-tech method would be harnessing gravity. A heavy weight, winched to the top of a tower, could pull a line connected to simple wooden gearing, ultimately turning the generator's rotor -- a rough, large-scale version of a weight-driven clock mechanism. Another possibility would be constructing a Stirling engine, but I suspect that even a crude one would require things like sheet metal or basic machine tools.

Providing a steady, reliable flow of power is also going to be important, so let’s look at building some batteries. Voltaic piles are quite simple in terms of battery chemistry -- alternating discs of copper and zinc, separated by cloth soaked in salt water. However, they're not rechargeable! So, let's look the oldest and most venerable rechargeable battery chemistry in the book: the lead-acid battery.

Sulfuric acid was available to medieval chemists, and is pretty straightforward to make -- a later 17th century process was simply burning sulfur with saltpeter in the presence of steam. No need for handwavium here! As for the lead plates, you could set your nanites to work precipitating the metal from water. It might take a while, though; according to one source, lead is only 2-30 parts per trillion in seawater. Freshwater is an order of magnitude better, 3-30 parts per billion. A gram of lead in a liter of water is a billion PPB -- so at an average of 15 ppb, you'd have to go through 67,000 L of freshwater to get 1 gram of lead. That's 2,366 cubic feet of water, so be prepared to wait!

Power consumption of computers ranges pretty widely. ARM-based boards like the Raspberry Pi use ~2W; a home theater PC would use, say, 13W; a laptop, 2x-4x that depending on the chipsets, and a desktop PC, potentially double again that of a laptop. Furthermore, power consumption under load vs. when the computer is idle can make a huge difference. So, when your power system is built, pick your computer hardware carefully!

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  • $\begingroup$ My original plan was a voltaic pile actually (though I didn't know the name.) The tech level he has access to is crazy, so exotic semiconductors aren't a problem, but I want the power to wobble once, so using lead acid as a power buffer, and having it get disturbed may solve that. Given the parts per billion of lead in water, I may have him buy some... $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Dec 27 '15 at 4:18
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I don't know how you are powering your nano factory, but if it advanced enough to create computers, you can go the Fuel Cell route (which is far less complex than a computer).

Fuel Cells can use Hydrogen as a fuel, so if you have water you are good to go. The initial power to do some electrolysis and start the engines can be obtained by a muscle powered dynamo. You can even use wind as a power source, using some windmills to run dynamos! Running water is also an option.

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    $\begingroup$ For hydrogen fuel cells, it takes more energy to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen that you can obtain by recombining them. Your net energy balance would be negative. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jan 26 '15 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @ckersch You can always complement your power source with windmills or water turbines! $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Jan 26 '15 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ Fuel cells would be good for portable energy, but with that much dynamo power he probably wouldn't need the hydrogen... That being said, I don't know why I didn't come up with dynamo power on my own. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Jan 26 '15 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ If this worked, we would not be using gas in cars. This is why water cars are a scam $\endgroup$ – Andrey Jul 6 '18 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey It does work. I'm not saying to use water as a fuel, I am saying to use hydrogen as a fuel. Water cars are a scam because they promise to work only on water. What I'm saying is to produce the power you need via some more basic power generation technique (windmills, muscle power, any other dynamo) until you get to the point of fuel cells + engines. At that point you can turn to whatever you want. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Jul 6 '18 at 13:10
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Turn a beach into a solar cell array.

It's simple. Just let your nano-factory loose on a beach and turn the whole thing into an array of solar cells. This will provide you with the DC power you need for your computer. You can also create super capacitors for amble storage of energy for use after dark, or leave those out if you need to add a 'ticking clock' to your computational needs.

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  • $\begingroup$ I guess the nano-factory can forge silicon ingots and dope silicon wafers? ;) $\endgroup$ – Wingman4l7 Dec 18 '15 at 21:36
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One thought I had is that mechanical computers are possible with limited materials. The assembly and specifications are fairly detailed as they have lots of gears with very precise tolerances. That might be more feasible if power limits are an issue in the given setting. Mechanical computers are powered by mechanical force, although they are much slower and larger than electrical ones.

Another thought would be to use steam power to make a generator to power a battery array for traditional computers made with nano tech. Or, still working on the thought of pressurized steam, a fluid computer might also work, it's similar to a mechanical computer, but based on liquid rather than gears or electricity.

TLDR: Mechanical and fluid computers require very few advanced materials, but do require precision in their assembly, so this may be an option to keep in mind.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised this hasn't gotten more upvotes. We're way too locked in to the idea that computers must be electronic. $\endgroup$ – JDM-GBG May 20 '18 at 1:47
  • $\begingroup$ I remember how all of the computer tech in the first bioshock was based on fluid computers. Sure they handwaved the issues with the tech, but it was still a cool background detail to their world. Rapture is to this day one of my favorite fictional cities because of that kind of attention to detail. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan May 20 '18 at 19:45
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The first computer was completely mechanical. The only part of it which needed electricity was the electric motor which drove the whole machine, which could be easily substituted by any other form of power (water wheel, windmill, manual labor, whatever you have available).

The machine consisted of lots of gears. The main challenge might be to manufacture these with enough precision using bronze-age technology. The protagonist might have to invent reusable metal casting for it. Alternatively you could substitute precision with size and just build big. In that case you might use wooden gears instead of bronze ones to reduce material cost.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ditto my other comment! Electricity is optional for a computing machine. $\endgroup$ – JDM-GBG May 20 '18 at 1:48
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If he can make batteries from ultra acid fruit or sulphur, he can make lead acid batteries all day long. Then you just have to recharge the battery with fruit juice. scientifically fruit is not that strong, but he can make sulphuric acid if he lives near a volcano and have a giant vat of sulphuric acid going in and out of a battery, enough to last months. Windmills and water reservoirs if he can use copper and mangets.

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