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Power Management for Microbial Fuel Cells

Nicolas Degrenne

Ampère laboratory, Lyon, France



Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) convert organic matter into electrical energy through the action of electrogenic bacteria. Reported power densities are usually in the order of few mW/liter at an output voltage of few hundreds of mV. MFCs are candidate to supply low-power electronic devices in specific environments (human body, lakes, wastewater treatment plants…).
Power management circuits for MFCs have to step-up voltages while enabling maximum power point tracking.
A first option is the use of regulated step-up DC/DC converters. Inductive DC/DC converters enable eased regulation whereas capacitive DC/DC converters enable full integration. A main limitation of standard designs is the minimum start-up voltage. A transformer-based start-up circuit permits autonomous operation at voltages as low as 100mV with standard of-the-shelf discrete components.
Another option to step-up voltages is the association of MFCs in series. In this case, the use of voltage balancing circuits enable more efficient energy harvesting from MFCs that have different electrical characteristics.

Biographical Sketch
Nicolas Degrenne studied electrical engineering at INSA Lyon (France) from 2002 to 2008. He realized an internship with CERN, Geneva (Switzerland) in 2006 and with NXP (Philips Semiconductor) in 2007, Eindhoven (Netherlands). He graduated in 2008 with a specialization in integrated power-electronics.
Since 2009, he pursues a PhD with Ampère Laboratory in Lyon on the subject of power management from microbial fuel cells (MFCs). It includes the characterization of MFCs and the design of power management circuits to harvest their energy.

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