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Tinest fuel cell generates power from bacteria

June 24, 2011

Four microbial fuel cells (credit: Kelvin Gregory, Carnegie Mellon University)

A tiny biological fuel cell, the smallest of its kind, with a total volume of just 0.3 microliters, has been built by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

The new device, the size of a single strand of human hair, generates energy from the metabolism of bacteria on thin gold plates in micro-manufactured channels. The bacteria create a biofilm that uses natural organic compounds as fuel to generate power.

For now, the microbial fuel cells produce only very tiny amounts of electricity, about 25 mA (milliamperes). For larger applications, many cells would need to be stacked together to increase the power output.

The microbial fuel cell could be used to power underwater remote sensors or even medical implants, the researchers said.

Ref.: Z. Li, et al., Microbial electricity generation via microfluidic flow control, Biotechnol Bioeng., 2011; [DOI: 10.1002/bit.23156]

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