A single enzyme breakthrough powers a flexible biofuel cell

April 13, 2023

(Nanowerk Highlights) Enzymatic biofuel cells (BFCs) have long held promise for creating efficient, wearable, and environmentally friendly devices, but their potential has been hampered by the complexity and high costs associated with using multiple enzymes in their design. A groundbreaking new study published in Nano-Micro Letters (“Screen Printable Functional nanomaterials for Flexible and Wearable Single Enzyme-Based Energy Harvesting Devices and Self-Powered Biosensing Devices”) successfully addressed these challenges and developed more practical and cost-effective solutions for real-world applications.

By adopting a single-enzyme approach, scientists at Prince of Songkla University in Thailand, have opened a new era in BFC technology, where one device serves a dual purpose: harvesting electricity and providing an analytical signal for glucose detection, all powered by a single enzyme, the glucose oxidase. , at both the anode and cathode. This innovative approach not only simplifies BFC design but revolutionizes its use in a variety of applications, such as healthcare, environmental monitoring and smart fabrics. Graphic abstract of the work. (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

“We have harnessed the power of glucose oxidase (GOx), a biocatalyst that is much cheaper than other enzymes commonly used in BFCs,” Itthipon Jeerapan, an assistant professor and principal investigator of the research at Prince of Songkla University, and the paper’s corresponding author, told Nanowerk. “GOx costs as little as $0.4 per 100 units, whereas other enzymes such as laccase and bilirubin oxidase can cost from $30 to $700 per 100 units. This makes our new technology not only more efficient but also more accessible and affordable.” .”

The result of this research is a flexible printed BFC-based energy harvester and a self-contained biosensor with excellent performance and stability. The device produces an open circuit voltage of 0.45 V and a maximum power density of 266 µW/cm2. It also detects glucose concentrations up to 10 mM and can withstand some mechanical deformation. Researchers have even demonstrated real-time data collection with portable wireless devices that enable seamless communication between sensor units and portable devices, such as smartphones.

This single-enzyme BFC technology provides glucose measurements in the 0-10 mM range and is unaffected by common interfering substances. These features make it an ideal solution for on-body electronics, standalone applications, and smart fabrics.

Jeerapan and his team have also developed a functional, screen-printable nanomaterial-based ink that enables the fabrication of highly flexible electrodes using the screen printing technique. These electrodes can be integrated with a variety of wearable devices and soft bioelectronics, such as biosensors and energy harvesting devices. Biofuel cell reactions are driven by glucose, and both bioanode and biocathode use the same biocatalyst (glucose oxidase) for their respective reactions. The biocathode uses a printed Prussian blue based nanomaterial as an electrocatalyst for the reduction of hydrogen peroxide, resulting in favorable biocatalytic energy conversion performance. Conceptual presentation of a flexible, screen-printed, single-enzyme-based system for energy harvesting from glucose and self-sensing glucose Conceptual presentation of a flexible, screen-printed, single-enzyme-based system for energy harvesting from glucose and self-sensing glucose. a The screen-printed BFC glucose component along with the redox reactions occurring at the bioanode and biocathode. b Preparation of screen-printable inks for anode and cathode. c Photographs of glucose BFCs screen-printed on (1) poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET), (2) stretchable textiles (sleeves), (3) gloves (fingertips), and (4) epidermal tattoos can be stretched attached to the hand model. d Work operation of a screen-printed glucose BFC in energy-harvesting, self-powered (up and down) sensing modes. (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

This innovative technology has significant implications and applications, especially in the health sector. This paved the way for the development of non-invasive and energy-efficient glucose monitoring devices that can be used for real-world diagnosis of health status. The ability to print functional nanomaterials on flexible substrates could enable the fabrication of low-cost, scalable wearables for energy harvesting and biosensing applications, leading to standalone wearables that can monitor a wide range of physiological parameters in real-time.

In addition, the use of a single enzyme-based biofuel cell in this work provides a simpler and more efficient method of energy conversion compared to traditional enzymatic biofuel cells that use multiple enzymes. This could pave the way for the development of more efficient and reliable energy harvesting devices that can operate using a single enzyme.

As the field of wearable electronics and biosensors continues to develop, future research will focus on exploring different nano- and composite materials to improve device efficiency and stability, developing integrated systems for simultaneous monitoring of multiple biomarkers, and shrinking devices while enabling remote monitoring via wireless communication. system. Challenges remain, such as improving long-term stability and durability in harsh environments, reducing device costs while maintaining performance and reliability, and establishing standard protocols for reproducibility and comparison of results across research groups.

This exciting breakthrough in BFC technology heralds the start of a new era in in-body electronics, smart fabrics and standalone applications. The development of screen-printable functional nanomaterials for flexible and wearable single-enzyme-based self-biosensing devices has the potential to revolutionize the way we monitor our health and well-being. The self-generated voltage output is obtained from a screen-printed glucose BFC and a wireless voltmeter, with no potential applied to increasing the glucose concentration (Left) Self-generated voltage outputs obtained from screen-printed glucose BFCs and wireless voltmeters, with no potentials applied to increasing glucose concentrations (0, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 5, and 10 mM). (Right) Plot of the corresponding calibration of the self-generated voltage output and glucose concentration. (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

“With the ability to monitor glucose concentrations in real-time, this idea could have a significant impact on lives, such as those with diabetes, because the relationship between electrical output and glucose levels in sweat can be meaningful,” said Jeerapan. . “Early detection and consistent monitoring can help individuals better manage their condition and potentially avoid complications.”

Apart from healthcare applications, this technology could also play an important role in environmental monitoring and medical diagnostics. The flexible and self-powered biosensor is highly resistant to mechanical deformation, making it suitable for integration with a wide range of wearable devices and soft bioelectronics.

As the world becomes more connected and dependent on technology, the demand for flexible, wearable and self-contained devices will only continue to grow. This new approach to BFC technology is a significant step towards meeting this demand while addressing the challenges of cost, efficiency and sustainability. By
Michael is the author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
Nanotechnology: A Small FutureAnd
Nanoengineering: Skills and Tools for Making Technology Invisible
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