Design and Development of A Nanoscale Microorganism Based Power Unit

Eldrid Sequeira*, a, Alicja J. Copikb

aMechanical Engg., CSOIS, Utah State University,
Logan, UT 84322 USA

bDept. of Chemistry and BioChemistry, Utah State University

Molecular Nanotechnology as of today takes the shape of mostly mimicking biological systems. Our research however focuses on directly exploiting the energy produced by the microorganisms. We intend to harness the work done by microorganisms to operate mechanical systems on the micro and nanoscale. Depending on the design we implement and with recent advances in nanoscale fabrication techniques we could conceivably have microorganisms power nanomachinery for extended periods of time.

The design revolves around bacteria (such as E.coli and S. typhimurium) which will be attached to cover slips in turn which are attached to a disc free to rotate about an output shaft. The bacteria by nature of their motile behaviour will swim and push or pull the disc. With forces acting tangential to the disc and bacteria oriented radially on the disc, the disc will rotate and this mechanical power generated by the microorganisms will act as the energy input source to a micro or nanosystem.

Initial theoretical calculation shows that such a system can produce angular velocities up to 0.023 r.p.p.s, which is in keeping with current nanomechanical system "standards". The system is completely controllable as it is based on bacterial motility, which is chemotactic, by nature.

The bacterial cells will either pull or push their "load" depending on whether they are attached by their "nose" or whether they are tethered to the cover slips. The stability of the cells in their desired oriented position is at best highly speculative and only further experiments will remove all doubt. The life of these cell based machines could be extended by using bacterial envelopes or membranes with flagellar motors in them, the speed and the direction of motion being controlled by manipulating the proton motive force that energizes the flagellar motors. All these aspects will be discussed in this paper.

Thus, we foresee an active cell based power system of micro scale and scalable to nanolevels using advanced nanofabrication technology capable of powering "off-the-shelf" nanomachines over extended periods of time.

A note of appreciation to Dr. Linda.S. Powers, Dr. Daryll DeWald and Dr. Jon Takemoto (Utah State University) and Dr. Sandy Parkinson (University of Utah) for reviewing the draft and for their valuable suggestions.

*Corresponding Address:
Eldrid Sequeira
Graduate Research Assistant (Mechanical Engg.), CSOIS,
Utah State University
Logan, UT 84322 USA
Phone: (435) 797 3027