A Tiny Biobattery That Works On Bacteria Has A Shelf Life Of 100 Years


A small biobattery that can still work after 100 years has been developed by researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Last fall, Binghamton University Professor Seokheun “Sean” Choi and his Laboratory of Bioelectronics and Microsystems published their research on a digestible biobattery activated by the Ph factor of the human gut.

Now, he and PhD student Maryam Rezaie have taken what they learned and put it into new ideas for use outside the body.

A new study in the journal Smallwhich includes nanotechnology, shares the results of using spore-forming bacteria similar to previously digestible versions to create devices that could potentially still work after 100 years.

“The overall goal is to develop a microbial fuel cell that can be stored for a relatively long time without degradation of biocatalytic activity and can also be activated rapidly by absorbing moisture from the air,” said Choi, a faculty member in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“We wanted to build these biobatteries for portable, storable and on-demand power generation capability,Choi said.The issue is, how can we provide long term storage of bacteria until use- And if possible, then how do you provide battery activation on demand for fast and easy power generation- And how do you increase the power?

The dime-sized fuel cell is covered with Kapton tape, a material that can withstand temperatures from -500 to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. When the tape is removed and moisture gets in, the bacteria mix with chemical germs which encourage the microbe to produce spores. The energy from this reaction is enough to power an LED, a digital thermometer, or a small clock.

Thermal activation of the bacterial spores cuts the time to full power from 1 hour to 20 minutes, and increasing the humidity results in a higher electrical output. After a week of storage at room temperature, there was only a 2% decrease in power generation.

The study was funded by the Office of Naval Research, and it’s easy to envision military applications for a resource that could be used on the battlefield or in remote locations. However, there would be many civilian uses for such a fuel cell as well.

While these were all good results, Choi knew that fuel cells like these needed to fire up faster and produce more voltage to be a viable alternative to traditional batteries.

“I think this is a good start,” he says. “Hopefully, we can make a commercial product using these ideas.”



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