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.