AUG 20, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Biofilm can Convert Energy from Evaporation into Electricity

Credit: Pixabay

In a recent study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst have engineered a microbial biofilm designed to produce evaporation-based electricity from evaporation. This finding could potentially transform the world of wearable electronics, including medical devices and personal electronics.

“This is a very exciting technology,” says Xiaomeng Liu, a PhD Candidate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UMass Amherst, and lead author of the study. “It is real green energy, and unlike other so-called ‘green-energy’ sources, its production is totally green.”

The biofilm used for this study is a paper-thick sheet of bacterial cells created naturally by an engineered version of the bacteria Geobacter sulfurreducens, which has been used previously in studies involving batteries and biosensors to power electrical devices. However, G. sulfurreducens required a diet of graphite to help it create electricity for those batteries and biosensors. Contrastingly, this new biofilm can produce equally, if not more, energy than similarly sized batteries, and works continuously because it’s biologically dead, so it doesn’t require food.

“It’s much more efficient,” says Derek Lovley, a Distinguished Professor of Microbiology at UMass Amherst, and a co-author on the study. “We’ve simplified the process of generating electricity by radically cutting back on the amount of processing needed. We sustainably grow the cells in a biofilm, and then use that agglomeration of cells. This cuts the energy inputs, makes everything simpler and widens the potential applications.”

The most remarkable feature of this new biofilm is its ability to create energy from the moisture on your skin. While solar energy is the most well-known renewable energy, a minimum of 50% of the solar radiation reaching the Earth goes toward evaporating water.

“This is a huge, untapped source of energy,” says Dr. Jun Yao, an Assistant Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UMass Amherst, and a co-author on the study. “The limiting factor of wearable electronics has always been the power supply. Batteries run down and have to be changed or charged. They are also bulky, heavy, and uncomfortable.”

“Our next step is to increase the size of our films to power more sophisticated skin-wearable electronics,” says Yao, while Liu indicates that one of the goals is to power entire systems of electronics, rather than single electronic devices.

Sources: Nature Communications, National Science Foundation

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
You May Also Like
OCT 23, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Black Hole "Wobble" Wobbles Researchers
OCT 23, 2022
Black Hole "Wobble" Wobbles Researchers
In a recent study published in Nature, an international team of researchers led by Cardiff University in the United King ...
OCT 29, 2022
Technology
Making EVs More Enticing for Drivers
OCT 29, 2022
Making EVs More Enticing for Drivers
In a recent study published in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transport Systems, a pair of researchers from North Caro ...
OCT 25, 2022
Technology
Robotic Procedure for AFib Patients Done During MRI
OCT 25, 2022
Robotic Procedure for AFib Patients Done During MRI
Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common heart arrhythmias that people experience, affecting up to six million peop ...
NOV 05, 2022
Technology
Researchers Develop Edible QR Codes
NOV 05, 2022
Researchers Develop Edible QR Codes
In a recent study that will be presented at The 35th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, a t ...
NOV 11, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Growing Carbon Nanotubes
NOV 11, 2022
Growing Carbon Nanotubes
Just like Lamarck’s giraffes stretched their necks to reach the food on the highest branch, researchers at Rice Un ...
NOV 14, 2022
Cancer
Breast Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise as it Enters Phase 2 Trial
NOV 14, 2022
Breast Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise as it Enters Phase 2 Trial
About 20% of breast cancers exhibit elevated levels of a protein known as HER2.  You may have heard the classifier ...
Loading Comments...