The University of Massachusetts Amherst

UMass Amherst Researchers Engineer Biofilm to Convert Sweat into Electricity

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently announced that they have figured out how to engineer a biofilm that harvests the energy in evaporation and converts it to electricity. This biofilm, which was announced in Nature Communications, has the potential to revolutionize the world of wearable electronics, powering everything from personal medical sensors to personal electronics.

“This is a very exciting technology,” says Xiaomeng Liu, graduate student in electrical and computer engineering in UMass Amherst’s College of Engineering and the paper’s lead author. “It is real green energy, and unlike other so-called ‘green-energy’ sources, its production is totally green.”

“It’s much more efficient,” says Derek Lovley, Distinguished Professor of Microbiology at UMass Amherst and one of the paper’s senior authors. “We’ve simplified the process of generating electricity by radically cutting back on the amount of processing needed. We sustainably grow the cells in a biofilm, and then use that
agglomeration of cells. This cuts the energy inputs, makes everything simpler and widens the potential applications.”

“This is a huge, untapped source of energy,” says Jun Yao, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMass, and the paper’s other senior author. Since the surface of our skin is constantly moist with sweat, the biofilm can “plug-in” and convert the energy locked in evaporation into enough energy to power small devices.

Schematic view (r) and actual photo (l) of a biofilm device