October 30, 2023 NEWS

Self-Powered Microbial Fuel Cell Biosensor for Monitoring Organic Freshwater Pollution

Ritsumeikan University researchers designed a low-cost biosensor for assessing water quality at the input of lakes and rivers

Biodegradable waste from plant and animal sources released into freshwater ecosystems is a significant environmental concern. Nonetheless, current methods for assessing water quality seem more or less impractical due to their complexity and high costs. In a promising development, a team of Japanese researchers has successfully constructed a self-sustaining and buoyant biosensor using inexpensive carbon-based materials for monitoring water quality at the inlets of freshwater lakes and rivers.

Image Title: A self-powered microbial fuel cell biosensor for monitoring organic pollution in freshwater bodies.
Image Caption: The 3D-printed, low-cost, and floating biosensor monitors water quality at the input of freshwater lakes and rivers.
Image Credit: Kozo Taguchi from Ritsumeikan University, Japan
License Type: Original content
Usage Restrictions: Cannot be reused without permission

The discharge of organic effluents—biodegradable waste materials from plants and animals—into freshwater bodies is a significant environmental concern, affecting the health and sustainability of these aquatic ecosystems. However, the methods currently available for inspecting water quality are complex and costly.

In this regard, researchers from Ritsumeikan University, Japan, have recently developed a self-powered, inexpensive, and floating biosensor for monitoring water quality at the input of freshwater lakes and rivers. This paper was made available online on September 9, 2023, and was published in Volume 200 of the Biochemical Engineering Journal on November 1, 2023.

“We developed a self-powered, stand-alone, floating biosensor based on a microbial fuel cell (MFC) for early organic wastewater detection. The MFC case was fabricated by a 3D printer and the electrodes were fabricated from low-cost carbon-based materials,” remarks Professor Kozo Taguchi from the College of Science and Engineering, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ritsumeikan University, who led the study.

MFCs generate electricity with the help of electrogenic bacteria. These microorganisms produce an electric current as a result of their biological metabolism. The amount of electricity generated by the MFC is proportional to the concentration of the organic waste that is being consumed by the electrogenic microorganisms. This characteristic feature is, thus, used to design organic waste biosensors powered by MFCs.

Using inexpensive carbon-based materials, the Japanese research team developed a self-powered biosensor based on a floating MFC (FMFC) to continually track the level of organic contamination in lakes and rivers. To this end, the team filled the anode (the electrode where oxidation occurs and electrons are given off) of the FMFC with soil containing electrogenic bacteria. The anodic bacteria subsequently decomposed the organic matter present in the water and converted the stored chemical energy into electricity. The electrical output was then used as a measure of the organic waste present in the contaminated water.

Although the researchers did not characterize the bacterial communities present in the soil sample, they rationally hypothesized that microorganisms from the genera Geobacter, Shewanella, and Pseudomonas contributed to the electrical activity. Prior studies indicate that paddy soils naturally contain electrogenic bacteria belonging to these genera.

Next, the team added a light-emitting diode (LED) to the floatable biosensor assembly. The LED was able to harness the electricity produced by the electrogenic bacteria and visually indicate the level of organic contamination in the water samples under investigation. It started flashing when the chemical oxygen demand (COD)—a parameter used to measure the level of organic contaminants in water—exceeded the threshold value of 60 mg/L. In addition, the LED flashed at an increased pace when the COD significantly exceeded the threshold value.

Prof. Taguchi adds, “Because the FMFC biosensor produces its own electricity, it requires no external power supply. Moreover, it can be used in early detection systems that monitor influxes of organic wastewater in freshwater bodies.”

Mr. Trang Nakamoto and Mr. Dung Nakamoto, both from the College of Science and Engineering, contributed to the biosensor development.

In summary, the study authors designed, developed, and tested a 3D-printed and cost-effective FMFC biosensor that effectively monitors organic contamination in freshwater bodies.

Kudos to the research team for developing a novel biosensor that finds use in monitoring and safeguarding our freshwater ecosystems!


Title of original paper: Stand-alone floating microbial fuel cell-based biosensor for tracking organic pollution influx
Journal: Biochemical Engineering Journal
DOI: 10.1016/j.bej.2023.109087

About Professor Kozo Taguchi from Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Dr. Kozo Taguchi is a Professor at the College of Science and Engineering, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ritsumeikan University. He received his Dr. Eng. degree in electrical engineering from Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan (1996). Dr. Taguchi’s laboratory primarily focuses on research related to high-performance energy exchange, energy-harvesting devices, sustainable materials/methods, biofuel cells, microfluidic cell-based devices, biosensors, dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), quasi-solid/solid DSSCs, and hydrogen energy. Prof. Taguchi is a member of the Japan Society of Applied Physics and the Electrochemical Society of Japan. He has over 75 publications to his credit thus far.

Funding information

Not available


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