Renewable energy is continuously on the rise. Bigger and better solar and wind farms keep popping up, slowly but surely heading towards displacing fossil fuels from the top of the charts.
Now, we all know that size matters, and this is definitely true when it comes to renewables. Something that we should not neglect to mention, however, is that bigger is not always better.
A team of scientists from University of Oxford looked at bacteria under a microscope, and decided to explore whether the continuous motion of the microorganisms in liquid can be used to generate power. The answer is ‘yes’, and here is how.
When bacteria move within an active liquid drop, their motion at first glance seems to be random. However, the movement spontaneously slows down, and as this happens, some bacteria begin to counteract the movement of others.
This movement is exactly what the scientists decided to utilize. Acting as a microscopic rotor, the bacteria were found to generate small amount of power.
Once the team established this, they immediately thought of upscaling the experiment. They put together a lattice of 64 of these symmetric ‘microrotors’, and saw that the flow of bacteria began to reorganize itself. The movement of the microorganisms resembled the motion of wind farms, where neighboring rotors move in opposite directions.
Based on a series of computer simulations, the scientists concluded that such tiny wind farms can be used to power tiny ‘self-powered’ gadgets. The mechanical power might not be huge, but it would be steady, reliable and sufficient to power micro engines.
More information and details about the method can be found in the article published by the lead scientist Dr Amin Doostmohammadi of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, in the latest issue of Science Advances.
Does this mean that soon we might have self-powered mobile phones, filled with tiny bacteria instead of Lithium-Ion? Only the thought of never running out of battery thanks to tiny bacteria makes me want to see what more can come out of this. Hopefully sooner.
Image © Oxford University.