Saliva-powered micro-sized microbial fuel cells can produce minute amounts of energy sufficient to run on-chip applications, according to an international team of engineers.
Bruce E. Logan, Evan Pugh Professor and Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, Penn State, credited the idea to fellow researcher Justine E. Mink. "The idea was Justine's because she was thinking about sensors for such things as glucose monitoring for diabetics and she wondered if a mini microbial fuel cell could be used," Logan said. "There is a lot of organic stuff in saliva."
Microbial fuel cells create energy when bacteria break down organic material producing a charge that is transferred to the anode. Logan, who has studied microbial fuel cells for more than ten years, usually looks to wastewater as a source for both the organic material and the bacteria to create either electricity or hydrogen, but these tiny machines are a bit different.
"By producing nearly 1 microwatt in power, this saliva-powered, micro-sized MFC already generates enough power to be directly used as an energy harvester in microelectronic applications," the researchers report in a recent issue of Nature Publishing Group's Asia Materials.
The researchers believe that the emergence of ultra-low-power chip-level biomedical electronics, devices able to operate at sub-microwatt power outputs, is becoming a reality. One possible application would be a tiny ovulation predictor based on the conductivity of a woman's saliva, which changes five days before ovulation. The device would measure the conductivity of the saliva and then use the saliva for power to send the reading to a nearby cell phone.
Biomedical devices using micro-sized microbial fuel cells would be portable and have their energy source available anywhere. However, saliva does not have the type of bacteria necessary for the fuel cells, and manufacturers would need to inoculate the devices with bacteria from the natural environment.
In the past, the smallest fuel cells have been two-chambered, but this micro version uses a single chamber with a graphene- rather than platinum-coated carbon cloth anode and an air cathode. Air cathodes have not been used before because if oxygen can get to the bacteria, they can breath oxygen and do not produce electricity.
"We have previously avoided using air cathodes in these systems to avoid oxygen contamination with closely spaced electrodes," said Logan. "However, these micro cells operate at micron distances between the electrodes. We don't fully understand why, but bottom line, they worked."
The anode is actually composed of carbon nanomaterial graphene. Other microbial fuel cells used graphene oxide, but the researchers showed that pure multi-layered graphene can serve as a suitable anode material.
While the researchers tested this mini microbial fuel cell using acetate and human saliva, it can use any liquid with sufficient organic material.
Justine E. Mink, recent Ph.D. recipient, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, was first author of this paper. Also working on this project were Muhammad M. Hussain, assistant professor, and Ramy M. Qaisi, graduate student, KAUST.
KAUST supported this work.
A'ndrea Elyse Messer | EurekAlert!
Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact Inverter for Uninterruptible Power Supplies
03.09.2015 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Solare Energiesysteme ISE
Another Milestone in Hybrid Artificial Photosynthesis
31.08.2015 | Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE have developed a highly compact and efficient inverter for use in uninterruptible power...
China's Loess Plateau was formed by wind alternately depositing dust or removing dust over the last 2.6 million years, according to a new report from University of Arizona geoscientists. The study is the first to explain how the steep-fronted plateau formed.
China's Loess Plateau was formed by wind alternately depositing dust or removing dust over the last 2.6 million years, according to a new report from...
The leaves of the lotus flower, and other natural surfaces that repel water and dirt, have been the model for many types of engineered liquid-repelling surfaces. As slippery as these surfaces are, however, tiny water droplets still stick to them. Now, Penn State researchers have developed nano/micro-textured, highly slippery surfaces able to outperform these naturally inspired coatings, particularly when the water is a vapor or tiny droplets.
Enhancing the mobility of liquid droplets on rough surfaces could improve condensation heat transfer for power-plant heat exchangers, create more efficient...
Longer, more severe, and hotter droughts and a myriad of other threats, including diseases and more extensive and severe wildfires, are threatening to transform some of the world's temperate forests, a new study published in Science has found. Without informed management, some forests could convert to shrublands or grasslands within the coming decades.
"While we have been trying to manage for resilience of 20th century conditions, we realize now that we must prepare for transformations and attempt to ease...
A University of Oklahoma astrophysicist and his Chinese collaborator have found two supermassive black holes in Markarian 231, the nearest quasar to Earth, using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
The discovery of two supermassive black holes--one larger one and a second, smaller one--are evidence of a binary black hole and suggests that supermassive...
03.09.2015 | Event News
20.08.2015 | Event News
20.08.2015 | Event News
03.09.2015 | Process Engineering
03.09.2015 | Materials Sciences
03.09.2015 | Materials Sciences