For two dollars, you could enjoy a hearty bottle of Trader Joe’s famous Two Buck Chuck, but it would hardly save the planet. Thanks to a group of clever MIT students, you may soon be able to take that lowly two bucks and do just that. The group of students, who go by the team name BioVolt, have developed a charger that digests plant-based cellulose and turns it into usable electricity. BioVolt says the materials needed to make the charger can be sourced for a mere $2, and it runs on everyday organic materials such as grass clippings and leaves — imagine a Sunday picnic in the park and being able to charge your cell phone with the fuel found under an adjacent tree.
Well, it might be a pretty long picnic. The current charger has one major drawback: with its power output, it would take about six months to charge your cell phone. Multiple devices can be linked together to increase power output, however, and the group feels that the design can be tweaked to increase efficiency by up to 100 times.
The device uses anaerobic organisms that digest the cellulose, and then converts the material into electricity and water. It’s stored in a microbial fuel cell. While the concept is similar to a biomass charger developed at Oxford University, the MIT students point out that theirs is much cheaper and more practical, since the Oxford model requires expensive platinum as a catalyst.
BioVolt developed the charger for the inaugural MIT and Dow Materials Engineering contest held on Sept. 25, and needless to say, they won (the prize was a mere $5,000, but hey, that’s enough for 2,500 chargers). Imagine what they could come up with for $10,000…