Biodegradable battery fuelled by BACTERIA is developed by scientists

Scientists create biodegradable battery fuelled by freeze-dried BACTERIA that could power HIV tests and other medical devices in poor countries

  • New battery is made by printing thin layers of metals on to a paper surface 
  • It is activated using saliva and can power a calculator or small light source
  • Scientists created the device using specialised bacteria called ‘exoelectrogens’
  • They can transfer electrons outside of their cells to the battery’s electrode
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A biodegradable battery fuelled by bacteria has been developed by scientists.

The device, which is activated using saliva and made by printing thin layers of metals on to a paper surface, is capable of powering a calculator or small light source.

Scientists claim the technology could fuel disposable HIV tests, glucose sensors and other medical devices in poor countries where electrical sources are sparse.

It could also help cut electronic waste because it decomposes naturally, they said.

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A biodegradable battery fuelled by bacteria has been developed by scientists. Microbes known as ‘exoelectrogens’ (shown in red in inset) power the device (main image shows artist impression) by transferring electrons outside of their cells to external electrodes

Researchers at the State University of New York, Binghamton, made the batteries using ‘exoelectrogens’ – bacteria that can transfer electrons outside of their cells.

These microbes were freeze-dried and placed on a paper surface, which was then layered with strips of metals and other materials.

To activate the battery, researchers added saliva or water, which awoke the bacteria from their dormant state.

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Electrons generated naturally by the microbes passed through their cell membrane and made contact with the battery’s electrodes.

This allowed the scientists to create a small electrical circuit that generates enough charge to power small, portable devices while producing little electrical waste.

‘There’s been a dramatic increase in electronic waste and this may be an excellent way to start reducing that,’ study coauthor Dr Seokheun Choi said.


The device (pictured) is activated using saliva and made by printing thin layers of metals on to a paper surface, and is capable of powering a calculator or small light source

HOW DO BACTERIA-POWERED BATTERIES WORK?

Batteries powered by bacteria could produce a new generation of disposable electronics.

The devices are fuelled by microbes known as ‘exoelectrogens’, which can transfer electrons outside of their cells.

When layered into a small battery, the bacteria shift electrons across the battery between its two external electrodes.

The bacteria are often freeze-dried to extend their shelf-life and activated by heat or water. 

A prototype created by the team is capable of powering a calculator or a light-emitting diode – a small semiconductor light source.

The structures are lightweight, low-cost and flexible, and can be used once and then thrown away, with a shelf life of around four months.

Researchers said the technology could one day power medical equipment in poorer countries.

In remote areas of the world, everyday items like electrical outlets and batteries are luxuries, and health care workers often lack electricity to power diagnostic devices, while commercial batteries may be too expensive.

The prototype exhibited a much higher power-to-cost ratio than all previously reported paper-based microbial batteries, according to Dr Choi.


 The structures are lightweight, low-cost and flexible, and can be used once and then thrown away, with a shelf life of around four months. Pictured is a layer of the technology built by the team last year

His team investigated how oxygen affected the technology’s performance.

In other batteries, the gas has reduced the movement of charge by absorbing electrons produced by bacteria before they reach the electrode.

But the new device was only slightly impeded by oxygen because the bacteria are tightly attached to its paper fibres, meaning electrons are shifted to the anode before they can be absorbed by oxygen.

Dr Choi is now working on a way to improve the survival and shelf-life of the freeze dried bacteria.

He said newer versions of the power source could be stacked and connected to boost power generation. 

The findings were presented at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

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