University of Bath
Layer-by-layer 3D-printed miniature microbial fuel cell. The device consisted of a bottom layer (B); an intermediate layer (I); and a top layer (T). The anode and the PEM/cathode were inserted manually before the printing respectively of the intermediate and the top layer. Volume of the anodic chamber: 2 cm3. Total area of both electrodes: 4 cm2.
Researchers at the University of Bath have created a low cost sensor using 3D printing technology that could be used to monitor the quality of drinking water in developing countries.
Scientists from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of West of England, developed the system which contains bacteria that produce a small measurable current which can be monitored as they feed and grow. When the bacteria come into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, acknowledging the presence of pollutants in the water.
Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Bath said, “When the bacteria feed in a microbial fuel cell, they convert chemical energy into electrical energy that we can measure.”
“Because this system uses live bacteria, it acts a bit like a canary in a mine, showing how these chemicals affect living organisms.”
Demonstrating the sensitivity of the device, researchers were able to detect traces of cadmium, a pollutant produced by the electronics industry and commonly used in battery production, in quantities below accepted safe levels.
The research would be beneficial in developing countries where the widespread application of water pollutant detectors is difficult due to the expense of the current technology. This new sensor would be much cheaper to produce using 3D printed parts, which can be used in lakes and rivers for continuous water quality monitoring.
At present, pollution levels in ecosystems are assessed using fish or daphnia but this can be quite difficult to produce accurate results from. Another way of monitoring involves mass spectrometry, which though very effective, requires expensive specialist equipment and expert knowledge. However, this new sensor would produce real time results and have the ability to detect tiny concentrations pollutants, without the need for costly lab equipment.