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A new kind of flexible fuel cell could power wearable electronics

Posted December 12, 2017

Sustainable energy production is one of the biggest challenges of our time. And we are not talking about cities and residential areas only. We are still looking for better ways to power our wearable devices and medical equipment. Now scientists from the Binghamton University have revealed a concept fuel cell that can withstand stretching, twisting and folding.

This textile-based microbial fuel cell could power medical devices or wearable electronics using nothing but human sweat. Image credit: Binghamton University

This material, similar to the one that gym clothes are made of, is very light, very flexible and yet it is a fuel cell. It is a microbial fuel cell, which can produce electricity from a variety of fluids, such as sweat. You can easily see where this invention can go – some gym tights, shirts or socks could be employed to make electricity. Seokheun Choi, leader of the project, previously has shown a paper-based microbial fuel cells, which could make electricity from spit, but could also be folded and refolded.

The most obvious challenge of this device is reliability. However, it’s been tested and its properties do not change over repeated stretching and twisting cycles. Choi believes this material could be used to power wearable devices of the future. We can also imagine that, if other body fluids work this way too, it would be possible to make medical devices too that would require no battery power. Obviously, because we are talking about bacteria, there is a great concern regarding infections. However, Choi says there shouldn’t be – “If we consider that humans possess more bacterial cells than human cells in their bodies, the direct use of bacterial cells as a power resource interdependently with the human body is conceivable for wearable electronics”.

This type of fuel cell could be used to power a variety of devices. However, you will still need to charge your phone at home, it seems, since scientists are only talking about low energy applications. For example, these microbial batteries could power some sensors and wearable electronics, because information transfer doesn’t really require that much energy. Shape-shifting possibility makes this battery very appealing as a piece of clothing.

Tiny batteries are very intriguing and this one specifically doesn’t even need charging. However, scientists agree that a lot of work remains to be done for this to become a viable product.


Source: Binghamton University

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