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Lick to power …

A salive activated battery. In the photo a 16 microbial fuel cells on a single sheet of paper able to power an LED. Credit: Binghamton University

Over the years I posted a number of news on “labs on a chip”, that is the creation of diagnostic chips that can detect viruses and bacteria. These are particularly useful in areas where it is very difficult to reach a diagnostic lab and quite significant progress was made in the breath of analyses that can be performed.

One crucial aspect remains powering the chip. In remote areas electrical power remains an issue (although portable accumulators and solar cells are becoming common).

A team at the university of Binghamton has come up with an ingenious solution: they have created a power cells that can work using saliva.

What is fascinating is that they are using bacteria in the paper based fuel cells. The bacteria a freeze dried and get reactivated by a drop of saliva. By placing 16 bacterial cells in sequence they have been able to generate sufficient power to light a LED, the power output is in the order of a few microwatt per square centimetre. This power is sufficient to activate a number of “lab on a chip” to detect the presence of a specific virus or bacteria.  More complex one would require a few milliwatt, and that is beyond the current possibilities although the researchers are confident they will be able to increase the power budget.

The University of Binghamton is not new to using bacteria for generating electricity. In 2016 they created bacterial power cells using cyanobacteria (watch the clip…).

I am not convinced that this innovation will actually provide a viable solution given the possibility to use micro solar cells and micro accumulators, but I have to admit that the possibility of using bacteria to generate power is intriguing….

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.