Print 30 comment(s) - last by dozeh.. on Oct 13 at 10:55 AM

Team BioVolt  (Source: MIT)
MIT students invent bio fuel cell that generates electricity from leaves and grass for $2

A team of student researchers at MIT have developed a device they hope will generate enough electricity to recharge a cell phone in developing nations where electricity is scarce. The device is based on the concept of using biomass to generate electricity.

The device was constructed by five MIT students under the team name BioVolt for the inaugural MIT and Dow Materials Engineering contest held Tuesday, September 25. Team members include Gerado Jose la O’, Andrew Hoy, John Craven, Joseph Walish, Peter Weigele, Jungik Kim and Ethan Crumlin.

The device the team invented for the competition generates electricity from cellulosic biomass. The device is intended to generate enough electricity to charge a cell phone in developing countries. Team members say that the current power output of the device would take about six months to recharge your cell phone.

However, BioVolt is quick to point out that the materials in the device only cost about $2 to obtain and the biomass "fuel" can be found everywhere in nature as leaves and grass clippings. The team members say that multiple units could be connected together to increase power output and that refinements in the design of the device could yield a 100 times increase in efficiency. 

The device uses anaerobic organisms to digest the cellulose and converts the material into electricity and water in a microbial fuel cell. The fuel cell contains two sides and in one side the micro-organisms break down the cellulose to component sugars.

According to the BioVolt abstract the sugars are then oxidized by bacteria and the resulting electrons are respired to a graphite anode. Protons are liberated by the oxidation of sugar, which pass through an electrolyte membrane and react with electrons and oxygen in an air cathode, which yields water and completes reactions needed to sustain electrical generation.

The BioVolt team won the first prize in the design contest and took home $5,000. The BioVolt bio fuel cell is similar to the bio fuel cell invented by researchers at Oxford in that the Biovolt cell doesn't require expensive platinum as a catalyst either.

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By nitrous9200 on 10/5/2007 4:03:05 PM , Rating: 2
Now you can mow your grass and power your...cell phone? They say it's cheap, so at least you could combine lots of units together if you wanted to.

RE: Cool
By Souka on 10/5/2007 4:24:43 PM , Rating: 2
uhm... "the current power output of the device would take about six months to recharge your cell phone."

RE: Cool
By scrapsma54 on 10/5/2007 4:33:27 PM , Rating: 5
Psssh, I made a potato clock out of a potato and a clock, and I get no credit? What gives? They get $500 and I nothing. I made a solution for the Amish and it gets shot down. Sigh, If only I invented it.

RE: Cool
By scrapsma54 on 10/5/2007 4:59:33 PM , Rating: 5
I got it, grass that cuts it self!
I combined the DNA of an emo kid and implanted it in the seedlings of grass.
The only drawback is I cannot stop the grass from wailing and drowning in Excess morning dew.

RE: Cool
By scrapsma54 on 10/5/2007 8:40:31 PM , Rating: 2
And in the end people don't have to waste gas on a mower. All they have to use is an electric vacuum. Has to be solar powered, duh. Hows that for reducing gas pollution. I'm on a role.

RE: Cool
By 3kliksphilip on 10/5/2007 4:51:44 PM , Rating: 2
Fine for people like me who only use a phone about once a month ;)

RE: Cool
By Souka on 10/5/2007 5:14:27 PM , Rating: 2
since it takes 6 months to charge a cell phone, you couldn't even keep it turned on.

RE: Cool
By AntDX316 on 10/6/2007 10:19:49 PM , Rating: 2
the drain rate of the cell phones battery along with the 6 months would mean the battery wont recharge it would make the time it takes to discharge longer so the recharge wont overcome the discharge rate :)

RE: Cool
By feraltoad on 10/6/07, Rating: 0
RE: Cool
By nitrous9200 on 10/5/2007 5:22:04 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly why I pointed out that they say multiple units can be chained together. You'd need a lot, I guess. Hopefully the engineers can improve the efficiency, I'm sure they're a smart bunch.

RE: Cool
By djkrypplephite on 10/5/2007 5:34:59 PM , Rating: 2
sometimes it feels like that anyway . . .

RE: Cool
By LogicallyGenius on 10/5/2007 4:33:57 PM , Rating: 5
They stole that idea from these poor third world guys

just check it out, this link is too old

RE: Cool
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 10/9/2007 8:56:15 AM , Rating: 2
That device produces gas, not electricity.
Anyway, even with all the potato clocks out there, the Professor on Gilligan's Island did this in the 1960's with cocoanuts and sea water. Where is his credit in all this?
Well, the real application here is to turn landfills into electrical generators.

RE: Cool
By 16nm on 10/5/2007 4:35:09 PM , Rating: 3
power your...cell phone?

Yeah, maybe in a millions years! (or maybe a little sooner)

It will be a great day when I can throw some grass trimmings in my car and run to the supermarket for some groceries. I can't help but be reminded of Back to the Future when Doc uses banana peels to power his De Lorean...

Did the MIT student Star Simpson play any role in the development of this technology? LOL.

RE: Cool
By caqde on 10/5/2007 5:03:56 PM , Rating: 2
Well IF they get their 100x increase in efficiency they can charge the phone in ~2 days with the current size of the "battery" they are using. If they at least get 50x and increase the cell size to 4x they can charge in ~1 days and with 8x it will charge in ~1/2 day. Of course with this whatever 16x would be this size would give you a charge time of about what we get today from the wall (about 6 hours).

The materials are cheap, but the manufacturing?
By Belegost on 10/5/2007 6:18:48 PM , Rating: 3
Right, so the materials cost $2 for the device, what about the cost to turn the materials into the device? Somehow I think that has costs an order of magnitude higher than the materials bill.

Besides wouldn't a small crank generator connected to a treadmill and a rectifier serve the same purpose with the advantage of charging the cell phone in a reasonable amount of time? As well as being useful for other electrical needs.

By porkpie on 10/8/2007 2:58:20 PM , Rating: 3
Human power requires a human to turn the crank all the time. This (assuming they eventually get their desired efficiency improvements) allows you to generate a constant stream of power WITHOUT using your muscles.

It's a nice development, though not terribly practical right now.

By DeepBlue1975 on 10/5/2007 4:10:41 PM , Rating: 2
I just can imagine hordes of mech-horses chewing alone all the excess of grass from your garden, acumulating energy in batteries and then stopping by a high tech plug in stable for mech horses in which their energy would be depleted into a central accumulator.

I want the horses to have synthesized horse sound, and maybe even a joystick coming out of their foreheads with all and mounting chair installed so that you can ride it like a normal horse.

They should be solar + wind + rain powered horses to be functional and worthy, though.

RE: Interesting!
By dozeh on 10/13/2007 10:55:14 AM , Rating: 2
What would be the point of a $500 prize?? IS VERY

By gorobei on 10/5/2007 5:36:26 PM , Rating: 3
So at what point do the bacteria realize they are trapped in a glass prison slaving away to power their overmaster's world and decide to revolt? Will a(the) one cell organism arise knowing the truth of its existence and using his power to manipulate our technology, seek to liberate his brethren? And will we send nano-engineered bio-agents to crush and eliminate this rogue band of latex clad, rave dancing heroes?

Better start working on the micro-sentinels right now.

By techhappy on 10/5/2007 4:30:43 PM , Rating: 2
Congrats, neat story. Don't forget to copyright your ideas before the industrial world jumps on it.

Prize was $5000
By cpeter38 on 10/5/2007 4:41:55 PM , Rating: 2
What would be the point of a $500 prize??

BioVolt, eh?
By EarthsDM on 10/5/2007 8:54:44 PM , Rating: 2
Who wants to bet some of the team members get their kicks playing BioShock? "Nothing beats a fist fulla lightning!"

By potatochief on 10/8/2007 8:28:30 AM , Rating: 2
Snoop dog will be delighted when he finds out about this!

By Wadsw on 10/8/2007 6:21:02 PM , Rating: 2

there are other microbial systems that do the same- with simpler and less expensive systems.

Better idea
By CRimer76 on 10/5/07, Rating: -1
RE: Better idea
By DeepBlue1975 on 10/5/2007 5:04:19 PM , Rating: 4
I think your idea stinks.
Plus, it's a very shitty one!

RE: Better idea
By CRimer76 on 10/5/2007 5:09:54 PM , Rating: 2
There is great power to be harnessed from my farts.

My dutch ovens can broil a chicken in 3 minutes flat.

RE: Better idea
By feraltoad on 10/6/2007 1:41:13 AM , Rating: 3
Kenny Rogers?

umm hello?
By cambit69 on 10/5/07, Rating: -1
“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads
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