Biomimetic file 159: Microbial Portable Fuel Cells

Why small business processes should not be undervalued over larger ones

fuel cell

Picture: Taghavi et al, Bioinspiration and Bionimetics. A biosafety cabinet* (BSC)—also called a biological safety cabinet or microbiological safety cabinet—is an enclosed, ventilated laboratory workspace for safely working with materials contaminated with (or potentially contaminated with) pathogens requiring a defined biosafety level.

Highlight: “An individual energy generation system has been developed that works by combining the force we apply when our feet touch the ground with urine-powered fuel cells, allowing engineers to generate enough electricity to send radio signals to a receiver…The fuel cells draw on electrons released by microbes as they process food in an oxygen-free environment…The walker’s energy pumps the urine, rich in the nitrogen and phosphorus microbes need, into the cells and then takes the used liquid back out again afterward. The design is based on the cardiovascular system of fish, the simplest closed circulatory system in nature. The electrical energy produced by the prototype was used to power a wireless transmitter that every two minutes sent a message to a receiver module.”

Insight: We still know very little about the species that inhabit our planet and especially virtually nothing about species at the micro level. It is a simple fact that micro lifeforms are omnipresent from our own bodies to all surroundings. The services they provide need to be sustained but they could also be harvested to serve  other specific engineered purposes. We greatly underestimate the potential that micro life forms could play in future sustainable development strategies; they can offer invaluable benefits at very favorable costs as is already proven through water treatment. Perhaps the next big thing would be energy bio-generation…

Often people tend to see the large over the small and the same goes with business structures. Indeed a typical business is composed of many processes small and big that make the overall operations possible. While in the background, smaller systems can be as important if not more because they make the bigger picture possible and neglecting them often results in larger processes instability …

Lets illustrate this point with the following scenario: A company specializes in the fabrication of bio-safety cabinets* for the life sciences industry and they must undergo a series of safety tests because of the nature of the usage. A bio-safety cabinet category III could be used to handle hazardous and highly infectious microbial agents. While the big picture is clearly the end product: the bio-saftey cabinet, in this business line the process of certifying it to meet specific standards is equally important because lives/people health is at stake. In order to do so, the product must pass a range of specialized tests and satisfy quality checks. On one occasion a product is delivered to a hospital customer and after one year from that delivery the company is asked to attend court because of the following issue: one of the lab employees working with the cabinet conducting infectious diseases tests has been diagnosed with a life threatening disease obviously caught from handling the samples. The hospital conducted their own third party tests on the product and and found-out that the bio-safey cabinet was not up to standards and was actually leaking air from one side. The hospital filed a law case against the bio-safety cabinet manufacturer for delivering a product that does not meet the standards which handed up putting one of their employees in danger.  They end up winning which costs the company a heavy fine and affects their reputation as the case was picked up by the media. After some internal investigation this company identifies a range of failures in its certification process and that in fact some tests were not conducted properly: they obtained certification by cheating on some tests. The problems are rectified, some staff dismissed but in the end the company has learn the hard way the importance of their safety assessment processes which was before seen as a small process compared with the end product manufacture…

Are you involved with product manufacturing? If so, perhaps do not neglect the processes involved besides the end product itself as they could in fact be equality if not more important…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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