Biobatteries that run for weeks? Behold the power of 3 bacteria

They can self-repair in harsh environments, too.
Ameya Paleja
The plug and play biobatteries developed by the researchersBinghamton University

A team of researchers at Binghamton University has found a way to power biobatteries for weeks, using three different types of bacteria, a university press release said. 

With technological developments such as the Internet of Things (IoT) that allow devices and sensors to connect with each other and work in sync, there is also a need to keep these devices powered, come rain or shine. While this may be easy to do when they are in places such as homes and office spaces, it proves extremely difficult in remote locations. This is where bio batteries can help. 

Biobatteries are a new and upcoming way to power devices that work by mimicking the breakdown of energy in biological cells. Glucose is the most common source of energy used by living beings. When enzymes in the cell break down glucose, it also releases electrons that can be used to power devices. 

How long can biobatteries work? 

Seokheun Choi, is a professor at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Binghamton University. Choi has been working on biobatteries for years and has found that bacterial interaction can generate sufficient energy to power devices for a few hours. 

While this is helpful in some scenarios, Choi and his team were looking for ways to increase the lifespan of their battery. Previously, Choi's team used a two bacteria system to generate power for their biobatteries, but in a new iteration, used a three bacteria system instead. All three bacteria are placed in separate chambers. 

"A photosynthetic bacteria generate organic food that is used as a nutrient for the other bacterial cells beneath. At the bottom is the electricity-producing bacteria, and the middle bacteria generate some chemicals to improve the electron transfer," Choi elaborated in the press release. 

Plug-and-play biobatteries

Choi's new biobatteries also see a new method of assembly. Contained in blocks of 1 sq. inch (3 cm X 3 cm), these batteries are like Lego bricks that can be combined and reconfigured very easily. Depending on the device they need to be used with, one can rearrange these blocks to deliver the voltage and current required. 

Choi believes the 6G will be deployed globally in the coming decade and there will be a large number of small, smart, and standalone devices that will be used in the future. What's more, these devices will also be deployed in remote and harsh environments that will be outside our reach, and that's where his miniaturized energy harvesters will come in. 

Going forward, Choi wants to make batteries that can perform self-healing when they face damage in harsh environments. But his ultimate goal is to make the batteries really small. "We call this ‘smart dust,’ and a couple of bacterial cells can generate power that will be enough to operate it. Then we can sprinkle it around where we need to," Choi added. 

The team published their recent progress in the Journal of Power Sources.


Recently, a bacteria-powered biobattery containing multiple species demonstrated long-lasting and fully self-sustainable power generation through their synergistic interaction. Confining individual species in separate spaces avoids unbalanced competition between neighboring species, maximizing their cooperative interaction to extend battery life. Despite the vast potential and promise, however, a spatially engineered microbial consortium has never been sufficiently scaled in a systematic and controllable manner for immediate power applications. Moreover, the spatial organization of living microorganisms having their seamless and effective electrical coupling with the external electrode remains a significant challenge. In this work, we establish the groundwork for creating a microfabricable and scalable biobattery platform that allows control of a 3D multispecies microbial consortium. A layer-by-layer electropolymerization deposition of microbial-infused polymer solutions creates a vertically multi-layered, conductive, microbial structure where individual species are separately confined in quasi-solid-state polymer layers, ultimately providing effective coupling at the biotic-abiotic interface and efficient ionic environments for cross-feeding interactions between species. An integrated modular “plug-and-play” biobattery platform provides a simple and practical approach for its serial and parallel connections. By connecting multiple biobattery modules, an actual wireless telemetry system was successfully operated, ensuring the practical efficacy of this power supply for real-world wireless sensor network applications.

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