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Biological fuel cell research project reaps results

Research conducted by a SUPERGEN Consortium led by the University of Surrey points the way forward for self-powered devices.

Launched four years ago, the Biological Fuel Cells Consortium was set up to develop advanced technologies to exploit the special properties of microbes and enzymes to generate electricity. The Consortium is part of SUPERGEN, an initiative funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) aimed at tackling global energy sustainability issues via consortia in 14 different areas of sustainable electricity generation.

Coming to the end of its current project in October 2014, the Biological Fuel Cells Consortium has succeeded in developing enzymatic biological fuel cells (E-BFCs) that use substances found in human blood – glucose and oxygen – to produce electrical energy. This research could pave the way for self-sustaining devices that are implanted into the human body, such as pace-makers, or glucose monitors (for people with diabetes). In the future, it could even enable the development of a digital contact lens that relays a computer’s display directly to the user, powered by glucose found within tears.

The Consortium has also developed a microbial fuel cell (MFC) approach that simultaneously tackles two key issues for sustainable societies: wastewater treatment and electricity generation. Powered by the naturally-occurring bacteria that reduce sulphur in water, the fuel cell can remove, for instance, sulphur-based pollutants from waste streams while generating electricity.

These and other successes will be reviewed at a meeting being held by the Consortium at the University of Glasgow on 28 to 29 April – the second day of which is will be an open event. The meeting is aimed at publicising the good work partners have achieved, using posters and presentations, and sparking interest outside the consortium to encourage further development of the technology beyond the end of the project.

Professor Bob Slade, Professor and research leader in Energy, Materials and Nanochemistry at the University of Surrey says, “The Consortium is justifiably proud of its contribution in this area and also to the wider area of bio-electrochemical systems, which offer nature-related, “green” generation of electrical power.  The results also indicate alternative, bio-inspired routes to useful solutions to current societal and environmental challenges.”

The SUPERGEN Biological Fuel Cells Consortium brings together academics at the forefront of this exciting and topical research area from eight UK universities: University of Surrey, University of Glasgow, Newcastle University, University of the West of England, University of Oxford, University of South Wales, University College London and University of East Anglia.

If you are interested in attending the Open Event on 29 April, please contact Dr Emma Wright at e.v.wright@surrey.ac.uk.

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