* urine powered fuel cells seem to be moving ahead. One day, people may have a better reason to take their smart phone into the toilet with them (heh):
The research team from the University's Department of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemistry and the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT), have worked with Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Bioenergy Centre, to devise this new kind of microbial fuel cell that is smaller, more powerful and cheaper than other similar devices.
This novel fuel cell developed by the researchers, measures one inch squared in size and uses a carbon catalyst at the cathode which is derived from glucose and ovalbumin, a protein found in egg white. This biomass-derived catalyst is a renewable and much cheaper alternative to platinum, commonly used in other microbial fuel cells.
The researchers worked on the cell's design to maximize the power that could be generated. By increasing the cell's electrodes from 4mm to 8mm, the power output was increased tenfold. Furthermore, by stacking multiple units together, the power was proportionally increased.
Currently, a single microbial fuel cell can generate 2 Watts per cubic metre, enough to power a device such as a mobile phone. Whilst this value is not comparable with other alternative technologies such as hydrogen or solar fuel cells and other methods of bioenergy digesters, the significant advantage of this technology is its extremely cheap production cost and its use of waste as a fuel, a fuel that will never run out and does not produce harmful gasses.
The research team is now looking at ways of improving the power output of the microbial fuel cell and is confident that by optimising the design of the cell, they will be able to increase the cell's performance.Mind you, this type of story always seems to end up with "more research and improvements are expected", but we rarely hear of such innovative products coming onto the market.
* New, cheap but better chemical batteries may be on the way too:
An unexpected discovery has led to a rechargeable battery that's as inexpensive as conventional car batteries, but has a much higher energy density. The new battery could become a cost-effective, environmentally friendly alternative for storing renewable energy and supporting the power grid.