Self-sustainable, high-power-density bio-solar cells for lab-on-a-chip applications
A microfluidic lab-on-a-chip system that generates its own power is essential for stand-alone, independent, self-sustainable point-of-care diagnostic devices to work in limited-resource and remote regions. Miniaturized biological solar cells (or micro-BSCs) can be the most suitable power source for those lab-on-a-chip applications because the technique resembles the earth's natural ecosystem – living organisms work in conjunction with non-living components of their environment to create a self-assembling and self-maintaining system. Micro-BSCs can continuously generate electricity from microbial photosynthetic and respiratory activities over day–night cycles, offering a clean and renewable power source with self-sustaining potential. However, the promise of this technology has not been translated into practical applications because of its relatively low power (∼nW cm−2) and current short lifetimes (∼a couple of hours). In this work, we enabled high-performance, self-sustaining, long-life micro-BSCs by using fundamental breakthroughs of device architectures and electrode materials. A 3-D biocompatible, conductive, and porous anode demonstrated great microbial biofilm formation and a high rate of bacterial extracellular electron transfer, which led to greater power generation. Furthermore, our micro-BSCs promoted gas exchange to the bacteria through a gas-permeable PDMS membrane in a well-controlled, tightly enclosed micro-chamber, substantially enhancing sustainability. Through photosynthetic reactions of the cyanobacteria Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 without additional organic fuel, the 90 μL single-chambered bio-solar cell generated a maximum power density of 43.8 μW cm−2 and sustained consistent power production of ∼18.6 μW cm−2 during the day and ∼11.4 μW cm−2 at night for 20 days, which is the highest and longest reported success of any existing micro-scale bio-solar cells.