VechainThor & Biological Fuel Cells - Cutting Edge Biotech To Transform Sustainability Landscape; Editorial By Steering Committee Member Professor Qi Ge
The following is an editorial by vechain Steering Committee member, Lecturer, physicist and 2D Materials researcher, Professor Qi Ge.
Prof. Ge’s pioneering research is unlocking the exciting world of 2D materials that, in combination with the VechainThor blockchain, are offering new ways to transform technology, global infrastructure and address common challenges we face in our transition to a truly sustainable economy.
Sustainable solutions will undoubtedly dominate our technology in the near future. Electricity generated from renewable sources (such as wind, tidal waves, solar power, geothermal, etc.) which do not consume mineral resources; electric and hydrogen vehicles, which do not emit greenhouse gases; more efficient computers, appliances, and other utilities, which reduce the overall energy consumptions.
But more and more often we can hear the questions on how green actually are our green technologies. Hydrogen production by the electrolysis of water needs new catalysts — causing a boost in extraction of certain elements (like platinum) from the Earth’s crust. Electric cars require lithium batteries — meaning increase in consumption of this element as well.
Battery manufacturing plants are now growing across the globe in large numbers, a fast also increasing the environmental impact of green tech. Wouldn’t it be nice, if our sustainable solutions could be grown just like flowers? Just imagine, you plant a seed of a battery, and there growth a tree with USB connectors to charge your phone. Well, this is of course a dream, but not that far fetched when we look to nature.
In fact, there are bacteria, which can produce electricity during their life-cycles. They require to donate electrons during their metabolism. Consuming sugar (most commonly lactose — the sugar which can be found in milk) these bacteria emit electrons as part of their every-day activity. All we need to do is to capture those electrons and start using those for our applications.
The trick is — how to capture electric current from each individual bacteria? Bacteria are very small — just a couple of micrometers in size (for comparison, human hair is 50–70 micrometers in diameter). It is impossible to wire every single one of them. We need some smart, nanotechnological solution to provide anchoring points where bacteria would go by themselves and donate electrons.
Quite a complicated task at the boarder between biology, chemistry, physics and material science. Nanotechnological solution One of the possible solutions is graphene network. Graphene is the thinnest (only one atom thick) material, which is also a very good conductor of electricity. In addition it consists only of carbon atoms, which makes it environmentally friendly, strong and relatively low-cost.
Its ultimately low thickness sets it ideally for the role of wiring of individual bacteria. All we need to do is to create something like graphene sponge — a network of interconnected graphene crystals separated by voids of few micrometer in size. These voids would be needed to accommodate individual bacteria, help them to multiply and migrate across of such sponge.
Bacteria —Nature’s Generators
There is however, one more complication: it would sound surprising, but bacteria are rather demanding creatures. They require quite specific conditions to live in. If we want them to donate their electron to the particular electrode — we need to make this electrode in such a way, that bacterial actually like it. Bacteria should want to attach to it, grow on it, donate an electron and be able to multiply.
Luckily scientist do know how to satisfy the most demanding requests of any bacteria by grafting the surface of graphene with special chemical groups which make the bacteria happy to contribute their electrons to the harvested electric current. Grow, rather than manufacture. The major beauty of such solution is that we actually don’t need even to talk about the battery production.
If the conditions are right — we will simply grow our batteries. (In fact, it is not even batteries, as we don’t need to charge them. Such systems would work as fuel cells — we put sugar in and we get electricity out.) You have your graphene sponge scaffolding of the required shape, you put one bacteria inside, give it some lactose and it will start to multiply by itself, increasing electric current at the output. The beauty of this solution is that one can grow such battery anywhere and anytime.
There are downsides of such solutions as well. As we mentioned before, as many leaving creatures, our bacteria can be a bit capricious and demanding. Sometimes they are very stable, but sometimes the smallest changes in temperature, acidity, illumination would suddenly send the whole colony out of control.
One would require a smart system, as for instance built on VechainThor blockchain, to monitor several of such fuel cells, regulating the current we withdraw from them, allowing those bacteria to grow peacefully, at their own pace. Such smart systems would also be able to be connected to the global grid, contributing to the overall sustainability efforts.
vechain, headquartered in San Marino, Europe, is the curator of VechainThor, a world-leading smart contract platform spearheading the real-world adoption of blockchain technology.
By leveraging the capabilities of ‘trustless’ data (information without intermediaries), smart contracts, and IoT technologies, VechainThor has enabled solutions across a wide array of fields. Vechain now turns its attention to the greatest challenge of all — building digital ecosystems to drive sustainability and digital transformation at global scale.
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