Scientists develop bio-battery that generates power for weeks

A research team from Binghamton University has created a bio-battery that lasts for weeks at a time and can be stacked to improve output and voltage current.

Technology is in a constant state of evolution and a requirement to grow. As a result, researchers at Binghamton University, New York, have developed a ‘plug-and-play’ bio-battery. This is because the Internet of Things increasingly connects devices and sensors together and discovering how to provide power in remote locations has become a topic of interest to many scientists.

This study was recently published in the journal Power Sources and funded by a $510,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research.

What are bio-batteries?

Professor Seokheun Sean Choi is a faculty member in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Binghamton University and has been investigating bio-batteries for years; bio-batteries generate electricity through bacterial interaction. Co-authors of the research are from Choi’s Bioelectronics and Microsystems Lab, including current PhD student Anwar Elhadad, and Lin Liu, PhD, and now an Assistant Professor at Seattle Pacific University.

Seokheun (Sean) Choi, Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Photo Credit: Binghamton University.

An issue the research team confronted was the limited lifespan of the batteries. Scientists acknowledged that a short life span could be useful in certain scenarios, but not for any kind of long-term monitoring in remote locations.

Previous batteries developed by Choi had two bacteria that interacted to generate the power needed, however, this new iteration utilises three bacteria in separate vertical chambers.

“A photosynthetic bacteria generate organic food that will be used as a nutrient for the other bacterial cells beneath. At the bottom is the electricity-producing bacteria, and the middle bacteria will generate some chemicals to improve the electron transfer,” explained Choi.

What challenges are associated with creating bio-batteries?

Researchers predict that the most challenging application for the Internet of Things will be wireless sensor networks deployed unattended in remote and harsh environments. These sensors will be far from an electric grid and difficult to reach to replace traditional batteries once they are depleted. Thus, because those networks will allow every corner of the world to be connected, power autonomy is the most crucial requirement. 

“Right now, we are at 5G, and within the next 10 years I believe it will be 6G,” he said. “With artificial intelligence, we are going to have an enormous number of smart, standalone, always-on devices on extremely small platforms. How do you power these miniaturised devices? The most challenging applications will be the devices deployed in unattended environments. We cannot go there to replace the batteries, so we need miniaturised energy harvesters.”

These new biobatteries measure 3cm x 3cm2 and have been compared to Lego bricks by scientists, as they can be combined and reconfigured in a variety of ways depending on the electrical output that a sensor or device needs.

Next, scientists intend to conduct further research to create a package that can float on water and perform self-healing to automatically repair damage incurred in harsh environments.

“My ultimate target is to make it really small,” concluded Choi. “We call this ‘smart dust,’ and a couple of bacterial cells can generate power that will be enough to operate it. Then we can sprinkle it around where we need to.”

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