"Pour me a drink!" said the Cell Phone

Published: 22 May 2003
By Samprita Thota, Research Analyst
Oh yes! A little alcohol could keep your cell going for a few weeks and maybe even months! The biological fuel cell as arrived.
A biological fuel cell (or bio fuel cell) is a device that converts biochemical energy into electrical energy. The principle that drives the working of this device is the oxidation of a carbohydrate substrate such as sugar and alcohol, by microorganisms or enzymes, which in turn releases electrons for producing electricity.
Chemical versus Bio Fuel Cell
The fuel in the bio fuel cell is the carbohydrate or hydrocarbon, while the chemical fuel cell uses hydrogen or natural gas. The catalyst in the bio fuel cell is the enzyme or microorganism, whereas the chemical fuel cell uses expensive noble metals such as platinum as a catalyst. The chemical fuel cell requires strong reaction conditions such as high temperature (over 200 degrees Centigrade) and strongly acidic solutions (pH less than 1) to be effective. The bio fuel cell operates at room temperature (20 to 25 degrees Centigrade) and neutral solutions (pH 7 to 9).
Bio fuel cells can be recharged economically and without delay using a few milliliters of alcohol, a by-product of fermentation.
Bio fuel cells are more suitable for small electronic devices whereas hydrogen based chemical fuel cells are volatile and therefore dangerous for use in handheld and consumer electronic devices.
The Working of a Bio Fuel Cell
The bio fuel cell can operate using either biological catalysts or microbial catalysts. Biological catalysts are enzymes that are derived from biological systems and catalyze chemical reactions that are used to convert the fuel into energy. Microbial catalysts such as yeast and bacteria are microbial cells that can be used to supply fuel to the cell.

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