What are bacteria good for? Well, except for sustaining life as we know it, it could be that bacteria could serve as a power source for speciality electronic applications. Not bad for something that we typically want to keep off of our favorite meals.
The batteries, created by researchers at Binghamton University in New York, are the size of a single sheet of paper and incorporate a small amount of bacteria rich liquid. The device incorporates chromatography paper and silver nitrate under a layer of wax, with the anode being a conductive polymer. Cellular respiration from the bacteria provides the energy.
How much energy does the bacteria-powered cell produce? With six batteries in a 2×3 parallel series configuration, the output was measured at 31.5 microwatts at 125.5 microamps. Sure, not enough to charge a smartphone or laptop, but enough for low power specialty devices that could have niche functionality. Consider small devices that do such things as measure glucose or detect dangerous pathogens and it’s easy to see how a small power supply could have important applications. As the researchers say,
The manufacturing technique reduces fabrication time and cost, and the design could revolutionize the use of bio-batteries as a power source in remote, dangerous and resource-limited areas.
The paper based bacteria powered battery technology will only improve with subsequent models, and already it has made strides from the first version in 2015. That version was a foldable model that more or less resembled a matchbook.
If the technology continues to grow, there are no limits to the applications. When you can create devices that are readily self-powered and could conceivably connect wirelessly to each other and data collection points, it is easy to see how this technology could improve our lives. Doctors could give patients disposable test equipment that run important tests on their physical health. Sensors for detecting potential threats at an outdoor concert or other event could be easily distributed and disposed of afterwards. Dangerous or hazardous areas could be monitored by economic one time use devices without the threat to human life.
The applications are myriad, especially as the technology continues to refine. Who knows, maybe it will even power those Harry Potter-esque moving pictures on periodicals. All of this, powered by lowly bacteria. But then again, without the bacteria in our stomachs we wouldn’t work either.
Bacteria Are Everywhere
Bacteria were among the first life forms to appear on Earth, and are present in most of its habitats. Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep portions of Earth’s crust.