Tag Archives: fuel cells

Blood sugar tech’s magic

Medical implants – think pacemakers and the like – are getting more commonplace, and that trend is likely to continue. But as any gadget-hound will know, tech needs juice to keep running… and you don’t really want to have to keep digging out a device from inside your body so you can swap out the batteries, do you? Of course you don’t… which is why the University of Frieburg’s research into biological fuel cells powered by the host’s blood sugar is a promising development.

They are looking into the use noble metal catalysts, such as platinum, to trigger a continuous electrochemical reaction between glucose in the blood and oxygen from the surrounding tissue fluid. The use of platinum (or a similar metal) would be ideal, as the material exhibits long-term stability, it can be sterilized, and electrodes made from it wouldn’t be sensitive to unwanted chemical reactions, including hydrolysis and oxidation.

The Freiburg scientists are ultimately hoping that the surfaces of implants could be covered with a thin coating of the fuel cells, which would then power the devices indefinitely.

Medical uses are all well and good, of course, but there’s a whole bunch of other cyborg gubbins that could use the same power-source. Book your combat hardening and sousveillance countermeasure systems implant appointments today!

[ Yeah, yeah, I know. Puns don’t kill people; people kill people. ]

Conducting bacteria that feed off garbage to produce power

Is rubbish going to become too valuable to be piled up like this?Whilst some of first generation biofuels like corn and soy based ethanol are proving to be more trouble than their worth, scientists are working hard on second and third generation alternatives that should add to our energy mix without damaging our food supply. One new development is microbial fuel cells (MFCs) – bacteria that breaks down garbage and conducts electricity. Scientists think by digesting our waste these cells could replace up to 25% of the fuels we currently use.

In a microbial fuel cell, the bacteria acts on the anode of the circuit, breaking down waste with oxidation. As a byproduct they produce electrons. Normally a bacteria would transfer these electrons to a nearby oxygen molecule but if the fuel cell has no oxygen in it, the microbe must move these electrons elsewhere and an MFC uses this to drive an electrical current.

Researchers are beginning to make headway in creating self-contained microbial fuel cells. Biofilms are bacteria that create matrices of material to attach themselves to the anode. This mix of sugars, proteins and cells is thought to contain tiny conducting nanowires that help move the electrons into the electrical circuit, making the whole clump of bacteria act like a big living anode. If this works, people aren’t going to be leaving their litter on the streets any longer. It’ll be too valuable!

[via Daily Galaxy, picture by Alan Stanton]