Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

New Fuels: Biofuels: Biofuel cell generates electricity when
implanted in False Death’s Head Cockroach

March 22, 2012


Biofuel cell generates electricity
when implanted in False Death’s
Head Cockroach.
Credit: American Chemical Society.

Summary

Scientists have developed and implanted
into a living insect — the False Death's
Head Cockroach — a miniature fuel cell
that converts naturally occurring sugar in
the insect and oxygen from the air into
electricity. They term it an advance
toward a source of electricity that could,
in principle, be collected, stored and used
to power sensors, cameras, microphones
and a variety of other microdevices
attached to the insects in a paper in the
Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Today’s finding is an advance in biofuel technology using a living cockroach. A report on the study appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Scientists have developed and implanted into a living insect — the False Death's Head Cockroach — a miniature fuel cell that converts naturally occurring sugar in the insect and oxygen from the air into electricity. They term it an advance toward a source of electricity that could, in principle, be collected, stored and used to power sensors, cameras, microphones and a variety of other microdevices attached to the insects.

Daniel Scherson, Ph.D., who is at Case Western Reserve University and is the study’s lead author, explains that scientists are developing ways to generate electricity from chemicals inside living things or from their movements to power implanted sensors or other miniature devices.

“Such devices could provide researchers or physicians with important information about processes going on inside insects, animals or even people without the need for batteries. They also could someday power artificial organs, nanorobots or wearable personal electronics.”

But before such “sci-fi”-sounding advances can be realized, practical biofuel cells are necessary. That’s why Scherson and colleagues developed an implantable biofuel cell for use in a live cockroach.

The biofuel cell uses a sugar in the cockroaches’ bodies called trehalose and oxygen from the air to generate electricity.

“The fuel cell did not kill the insects or impair functioning of their internal organs. We also implanted the device into a Shiitake mushroom, and it worked. Neither fuel cell — in the roach or the mushroom — produced a large amount of energy, so any microdevice that requires high power could operate only intermittently.”

The electricity generated by the biofuel cell in principle, could be collected and stored and subsequently used to power a variety of microdevices.

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. . Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

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Daniel Scherson, Ph.D.,
Case Western Reserve University,
Cleveland, Ohio