J.E. Mink, R.M. Qaisi, B.E. Logan, M.M. Hussain
NPG Asia Materials, volume 6, issue 3, (2014)
Micro-sized microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are miniature energy harvesters that use bacteria to convert biomass from liquids into usable power. The key challenge is transitioning laboratory test beds into devices capable of producing high power using readily available fuel sources. Here, we present a pragmatic step toward advancing MFC applications through the fabrication of a uniquely mobile and inexpensive micro-sized device that can be fueled with human saliva. The 25-μl MFC was fabricated with graphene, a two-dimensional atomic crystal-structured material, as an anode for efficient current generation and with an air cathode for enabling the use of the oxygen present in air, making its operation completely mobile and free of the need for laboratory chemicals. With saliva as a fuel, the device produced higher current densities (1190 A m−3) than any previous air-cathode micro-sized MFCs. The use of the graphene anode generated 40 times more power than that possible using a carbon cloth anode. Additional tests were performed using acetate, a conventional organic material, at high organic loadings that were comparable to those in saliva, and the results demonstrated a linear relationship between the organic loading and current. These findings open the door to saliva-powered applications of this fuel cell technology for Lab-on-a-Chip devices or portable point-of-care diagnostic devices.