Amherst, Mass. – Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently announced that they have figured out how to engineer a biofilm that harvests the energy in evaporation and converts it into electricity. This biofilm, announced in . was done in nature communication, Wearables have the potential to revolutionize the world of electronics, powering everything from personal medical sensors to personal electronics.
“This is a very exciting technology,” says Xiaomeg Liu, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst College of Engineering and the paper’s lead author. “This is real green energy, and unlike other so-called ‘green-energy’ sources, its production is completely green.”
That’s because this biofilm — a thin sheet of bacterial cells about the thickness of a sheet of paper — is produced naturally by an engineered version of the bacteria. Geobacter Sulfurreducens, Yes. sulfurreduction Known to produce electricity and have previously been used in “microbial batteries” to power electrical equipment. But such batteries require Yes. sulfurreduction Proper care is taken and consistent diet is given. In contrast, this new biofilm, which can supply much, if not more, energy than a battery of a similar size, works, and continues to function because it is dead. And because it’s dead, it doesn’t need to be fed.
“It’s much more efficient,” says Derek Lovely, Distinguished Professor of Microbiology at UMass Amherst and one of the paper’s senior authors. “We have simplified the process of generating electricity by radically cutting the amount of processing required. We grow cells in biofilms sustainably, and then use that group of cells. This energy input into cuts down, simplifies everything and increases the potential applications.”
The secret behind this new biofilm is that it generates energy from the moisture in your skin. Although we read stories about solar energy every day, at least 50% of the solar energy that reaches Earth goes into evaporated water. “It’s a huge, untapped source of energy,” says Jun Yao, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass and the paper’s other senior author. Because the surface of our skin is constantly moistened by sweat, the biofilm can “plug-in” and convert the energy locked up in evaporation into enough energy to power small devices.
“The limiting factor of wearable electronics,” Yao says, “has always been the power supply. Batteries run out and have to be replaced or charged. They’re also bulky, bulky, and uncomfortable.” But a clear, small, thin flexible biofilm that produces a constant and steady supply of electricity and that can be worn like a Band-Aid, as a patch applied directly to the skin, solves all these problems.
What does it all work Yes. sulfurreduction Grows in colonies that look like thin mats, and each individual germ connects to its neighbors via a series of natural nanowires. The team then cuts these mats and uses lasers to engrave tiny circuits in the films. Once the films are etched, they are sandwiched between electrodes and finally sealed into a soft, sticky, breathable polymer that you can apply directly to your skin. Once this tiny battery is “plugged in” by applying it to your body, it can power small devices.
“Our next step is to increase the size of our films to power more sophisticated skin-wearable electronics,” says Yao, and Liu explains that one of the goals is to power entire electronic systems rather than single devices.
This research was funded by the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) at UMass Amherst, which combines deep and interdisciplinary expertise from 29 departments to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit human health and well-being.
Contact: Jun Yao, [email protected]
Degan Miller, [email protected]