Advanced Semiconductor Laboratory
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Microscale energy harvesting

Nasir Alfaraj

December 25, 2016 - Posted in Discussion
Recent advances in nanotechnology have enabled rapid integration of microscale electronic energy-harvesting devices such as solar cells, thermoelectric and piezoelectric generators, and fuel cells. Due to their low-cost material and manufacturing advantages, these nanostructured devices are typically fabricated using solution processing methods and have the potential for growth while achieving an efficient energy-harvesting rate. Here, I cover a recently developed miniaturized energy-harvesting device: a 1.25 μL microbial fuel cell.​

A microbial fuel cell is a state-of-the-art device demonstrating the latest approach for generating bioelectricity from biomass using bacteria. Justine Mink and coauthors1 describe microbial fuel cells as “an innovative method for generating power that can also be used for treating wastewater.” One of the advantages of the microbial fuel cell is that it does not utilize processed chemicals or onboard power sources to operate, making it a completely passive device that is most suitable for lab-on-a-chip applications, that is, integrating numerous laboratory functions on one small chip. The figure below shows a design of a basic microbial fuel cell in which the cathode is separated from the anode in order to insulate the hydrogen produced at the cathode from bacteria on the anode.2

1Mink, J., Rojas, J., Logan, B., & Hussain, M. (2012). Vertically grown multiwalled carbon nanotube anode and nickel silicide integrated high performance microsized (1.25 μL) microbial fuel cell. Nano Letters, 12(2), 791–795.

2Logan, B. (2009). Scaling up microbial fuel cells and other bioelectrochemical systems. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 85(6), 1665–1671.
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