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Engineers Develop New Energy Source Powered by Saliva

In these days of green energy, several methods of producing energy are being studied, but none may be as unexpected as saliva. Yes, that’s right, researchers may have found a way to produce energy with standard spit. In a report featured in a recent issue of Nature Publishing Group’s Asia Materials, a research group published their surprising results.

Justine E. Mink, a recent Ph.D. recipient, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, was the first author of the paper. Joining her were Muhammad M. Hussain, assistant professor, and Ramy M. Qaisi, graduate student, KAUST, as well as Bruce E. Logan, Evan Pugh Professor and Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering, Penn State.

Logan credited the idea to fellow researcher Justine E. Mink. “The idea was Justine’s because she was thinking about sensors for such things as glucose monitoring for diabetics and she wondered if a mini microbial fuel cell could be used,” Logan said. “There is a lot of organic stuff in saliva.”

Waste water has already been targeted as a source of energy, thanks to the way that bacteria, when breaking down, can actually produce energy. This much smaller source of energy however has quite a bit of potential. Although the process is somewhat similar, there are a lot of differences when it comes to working with saliva as an energy source. Logan, who has a decade of experience in using waste water as an energy source added, “We have previously avoided using air cathodes in these systems to avoid oxygen contamination with closely spaced electrodes. However, these micro cells operate at micron distances between the electrodes. We don’t fully understand why, but bottom line, they worked.”

This research may impact the way that bio-materials are used in the medical field. Researchers have been studying how to use chips to heal patients, but finding a consistent power source has been tricky. While saliva may not be used to power these chips, their findings with bacteria could impact this area of study and produce a new way for doctors to effectively treat their patients.

“By producing nearly 1 microwatt in power, this saliva-powered, micro-sized MFC already generates enough power to be directly used as an energy harvester in microelectronic applications,” stated the researchers in their report.

This new study highlights what can be accomplished when engineers get together and start thinking of innovative ways to change the status quo. There are literally thousands of opportunities available for engineers who are willing to think outside the box and potentially impact all of civilization with their findings.

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