Binghamton University, State University of New York, researchers have developed a “plug-and-play” biobattery that can be stacked to improve output voltage and current.

New biobatteries generate power for weeks using bacterial interactions.
Professor Seokheun “Sean” Choi’s new “plug-and-play” biobattery can be stacked to increase output voltage and current./Binghamton University.

As our technological needs grow and the Internet of Things connects our devices and sensors, determining how to provide power in remote locations has become an expanding field of study.

Professor Seokheun “Sean” Choi, a member of Binghamton University’s Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been researching biobatteries, which generate electricity through bacterial interaction, for many years.

One issue he ran into was that the batteries only lasted a few hours. This could be useful in some cases, but not for long-term monitoring in remote locations.

Choi and his colleagues developed a “plug-and-play” biobattery that can be stacked to improve output voltage and current in a new study published in the Journal of Power Sources and supported by a $510,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research. Choi’s Bioelectronics and Microsystems Lab co-authors include current Ph.D. students Anwar Elhadad and Lin Liu, Ph.D. ’20. (now an assistant professor at Seattle Pacific University).

Choi’s previous batteries used two bacteria that interacted to generate the required power, but this new version employs three bacteria in separate vertical chambers: “A photosynthetic bacteria produce organic food that is used as a nutrient by the bacterial cells beneath it. The bacteria at the bottom produce electricity, while the bacteria in the middle produce chemicals that aid in electron transfer.”

Choi believes that wireless sensor networks deployed unattended in remote and harsh environments will be the most difficult Internet of Things application. These sensors will be located far from an electric grid and will be difficult to reach when traditional batteries run out. Because these networks will connect every corner of the globe, power autonomy is the most important requirement.

“Right now, we’re at 5G, and I believe we’ll be at 6G within the next ten years,” he said. “We will have an enormous number of smart, standalone, always-on devices on extremely small platforms thanks to artificial intelligence. How are these miniature devices powered? The most difficult applications will be those deployed in unattended environments. We can’t go there to replace the batteries, so miniaturized energy harvesters are required.”

Choi likens the new biobatteries, which measure 3 centimeters by 3 centimeters square, to Lego bricks, which can be combined and reconfigured in a variety of ways depending on the electrical output required by a sensor or device.

Among the advancements he hopes to make through additional research is the development of a package that can float on water and perform self-healing to automatically repair damage sustained in harsh environments.

“My ultimate goal is to make it as small as possible,” he said. “This is referred to as “smart dust,” and it can be powered by a couple of bacterial cells. Then we can scatter it wherever we need to.”

Source: Materials provided by Binghamton 

Reference: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2022.231487

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