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At the cost of a green roof, a next-gen biobattery will allow parks and gardens to generate their own lighting and power IoT devices.
Some time ago, we talked about green power generated by plants. Today, we introduce you to a Spanish company pioneering a revolution in energy: bioenergy harnessed from the plant kingdom. They’ve unveiled an advanced biobattery or biological battery model, leveraging a community of microorganisms to generate a modest electric current. Beyond powering up, this technology boasts additional merits, including temperature regulation and a reduction in CO2 emissions.
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Biobatteries are not a recent innovation; their potential began drawing attention in the 1970s. The fundamental principle underpinning biobatteries lies in electrogenic microorganisms—bacteria that exhibit an extraordinary knack for generating electricity during their metabolic processes. Analogous to conventional batteries, biobatteries comprise a positively charged terminal, known as the cathode, and a negatively charged terminal, referred to as the anode. When bacteria metabolize nutrients such as glucose and breathe, they liberate electrons and protons, which are harnessed by these terminals.
These biobatteries present a sustainable avenue for generating energy in environments teeming with organic matter and the right microbial populations. Among the most prevalent microorganisms used are E. coli and Shewanella oneidensis, nicknamed the “electric bacterium.” Yet, until now, commercial biobatteries have grappled with challenges like restricted renewable energy output and, most notably, device instability, resulting in contamination and diminished efficiency.
One inspiring development comes from a Spanish company that launched its biobattery model in 2022. The project encountered a common stumbling block faced by earlier biobattery endeavors—device failure when confronted with the elements. The solution was creating a “bacteria hotel,” an environment conducive to electrogenic or electrophilic microorganisms naturally occurring in the wild.
The company’s primary model is a terrestrial panel integrated with an underground irrigation system. This innovation allows irrigation and rainwater to deliver essential nutrients and fertilizers to the base, where bacteria within microbial cells break down organic matter, simultaneously releasing electrons.
As per the manufacturer’s claims, a 7x7 square meter panel can generate 15 Wh/day, sufficient to power six small light fixtures or one substantial lighting source alongside motion sensors. Moreover, they offer digital panels for real-time or remote electricity production and battery health monitoring.
This technology, costing akin to traditional green roofs, holds the potential to illuminate urban parks and gardens while powering IoT devices like air pollution meters.
The first biobatteries have already found homes in office buildings, parks, hotels, and even Silicon Valley’s 21st Century Monument. Furthermore, they can be seamlessly incorporated into urban furniture, transforming plant-adorned benches into cellphone charging stations. The company has also introduced other technologies, including a system that harnesses plants’ sensitivity to electric current as switches—simply touching their leaves can activate or deactivate lights and other devices.
At the core of the appeal of these biobatteries is their eco-friendliness and sustainability, ensuring round-the-clock electricity generation. However, their benefits extend far beyond this primary virtue. The manufacturer asserts that integrated irrigation can translate into up to 50% water savings, with surface temperatures lowered by as much as 4ºC and CO2 emissions curbed by up to 334.4 grams per square meter annually.
If you want to learn more about the world of biobatteries or biological batteries, you can check out this article that explores the technology in-depth and talks about a new generation of origami batteries. There are also other ways to generate electricity on a small scale and in a renewable way, such as triboelectricity.