Urine-activated origami microbial fuel cells to signal proof of life
The adaptability and practicality of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are highly desirable traits in the search for alternative sources of energy. An innovative application for the technology could be to power portable emergency locator transmitters (ELTs). Such devices would ideally need to be lightweight, robust and fast-in terms of response. Urine is an abundant resource, and with MFCs, could be the ideal fuel for powering ELTs, with the compelling advantage of also indicating proof of life. We developed novel origami tetrahedron MFCs (TP-MPFCs) using photocopier paper to test different urine-based inoculants. When inoculated with urine extracted from the anode chambers of working MFCs a stack of 6 abiotic MFCs produced a usable working voltage after just 3 h 15 min; enough to energise a power management system. The anodes of established TP-MFCs were then removed and air-dried for 7 days before being inserted into new paper reactors and refrigerated. After 4 weeks, these MFCs displayed an immediate response to fresh urine and achieved a functional working voltage in just 35 minutes. Two paper MFCs connected in parallel were able to transmit 85 radio signals and in a series configuration 238 broadcasts over 24 hours. These findings demonstrate that simple, inexpensive, lightweight paper MFCs can be employed as urine-activated, “proof of life” reporting systems.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Highlighting materials research in the UK for energy and sustainability