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Calvin College Senior Design 2009-2010

Millions of people around the world live without access to a traditional power grid.

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Contact Team BioVolt


Lindsay Arnold


Jeff Christians


Diane Esquivel


Andrew Huizenga


BioVolt's Mission

Our mission is to create a means of electricity production that is both portable and sustainable. A microbial fuel cell (MFC) provides a way to produce power in a compact cell using only bacteria and a simple feed solution. This MFC should be inexpensive, robust, made of easily accessable materials, and be able to produce enough power to recharge a standard battery.



For our Senior Design Project, we've decided to investigate and construct a microbial fuel cell. This system will harness the potential from a naturally occurring biological process, specifically enzymatic digestion. This cell will run on baking soda, vinegar, table salt, sodium phosphate, and ammonium nitrate. This MFC will demonstrate a clean, Earth-friendly alternative energy. The cell will be optimized over a large range of conditions so as to function well in remote or undeveloped locations.


Process Summary

Design Process

The MFC works by harnessing the natural metabolism of a special species of bacteria which can transport the electrons produced in this process outside of the cell membrane. As shown in the picture on the right, the bacteria, found in the anodic chamber of the cell, oxidize acetate, the "power" ingredient of the feed, to carbon dioxide. This process also produces electrons and protons as byproducts. By allowing this metabolism to occur on the surface of an electrode, the electrons can be isolated from the protons and used to perform electrical work. The electrons are passed through a wire to a load, the electrical device, and to the cathodic electrode. The protons which are produced flow from the anode through a permiable membrane, referred to as a proton exchange membrane, and into the cathodic chamber. At the cathodic electrode, oxygen, which is dissolved in the cathodic fluid, combines with the electrons and protons and is reduced to form water.



We would like to acknowledge the following people and organizations for their assistance on this project. Without all of the help recieved by these people, BioVolt's project would not have been possible.

Calvin College - Project funding

Membranes International - Proton exchange membrane donation

Professor Aubrey Sykes - Team mentor

Professor John Wertz - Biology consultant

Mr. Chuck Spoelhof - Industrial Consultant

Ben Johnson - Biology consultant

Professor Jeremy VanAntwerp - Project idea


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