The Wichinsky Bagelmatic

Reader [Eric Mockler] brought Louis “Lebel” Wichinsky to our attention, a colorful inventor he ran into some years back in the Borscht Belt of Upstate New York. Described as a Mel Brooks doppelgänger, Lebel was born the son of a baker in Hurleyville NY. During WW2 he served in England where he lodged with two brothers who also owned a bakery. When his British friends suggested he should build a bagel machine because “you Yanks can do anything”, he accepted their challenge and began working on a design. Despite taking a detour through Israel as an aircraft mechanic on his journey home, he finally succeeded in 1964 after 20-some years of tinkering. A patent followed in 1968, despite discovering that someone else had independently invented similar device.

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This Biofuel Cell Harvests Energy From Your Sweat

Researchers from l’Université Grenoble Alpes and the University of San Diego recently developed and patented a flexible device that’s able to produce electrical energy from human sweat. The lactate/O2 biofuel cell has been demonstrated to light an LED, leading to further development in the area of harvesting energy through wearables.

[via Advanced Functional Materials]
The research was published in Advanced Functional Materials on September 25, 2019. The potential use cases for this type of biofuel cell within the wearables space include medical and athletic monitoring. By using biofuels present in human fluids, the devices can rely on an efficient energy source that easily integrated with the human body.

Scientists have developed a flexible conductive material made up of carbon nanotubes, cross-linked polymers, and enzymes connected to each and printed through screen-printing. This type of composite is known as a buckypaper, and uses the carbon nanotubes as the electrode material.

The lactate oxidase works as the anode and the bilirubin oxidase (from the yellowish compound found in blood) as the cathode. Given the theoretical high power density of lactate, this technology has the potential to produce even more power than its current power generation of 450 µW.

[via Advanced Functional Materials]
The cell follows deformations in the skin and produces electrical energy through oxygen reduction and oxidation of the lactate in perspiration. A boost converter is used to increase the voltage to continuously power an LED. The biofuel cells currently delivered 0.74V of open circuit voltage. As measurements for power generation had to be taken with the biofuel cell against human skin, the device has shown to be productive even when stretched and compressed.

At the moment, the biggest cost for production is the price of the enzymes that transform the compounds in sweat. Beyond cost considerations, the researchers also need to look at ways to increase the voltage in order to power larger portable devices.

With all the exciting research surrounding wearable technology right now, hopefully we’ll be hearing about further developments and applications from this research group soon!

[Thanks to Qes for the tip!]

Growing Algae For Fun And Profit

Supposedly, writes [Severin], algae is a super food, can be used as biofuel, and even be made into yoga mats. So he’s built an algal reactor at Munich Maker Lab, to try to achieve a decent algal yield.

You might expect that  sourcing live algae would be as simple as scraping up a bit of green slime from a nearby pond, but that yields an uncertain mix of species. [Severin] wanted Chlorella algae for his experiment because its high fat content makes it suitable for biodiesel experiments, so had to source his culture from an aquatic shop.

The reactor takes the form of a spiral of transparent plastic tube surrounding a CFL lamp as a light source, all mounted on a lasercut wooden enclosure housing a pump. A separate glass jar forms a reservoir for the algal-rich water. He does not mention whether or not he adds any nutrient to the mix.

Left to its own devices the machine seems to work rather well, a 48 hour session yielding an impressively green algal soup. Sustained running does cause a problem though, the pipes block up with accumulated algae and the machine needs cleaning by blasting it with high pressure water and a healthy dose of nuts and bolts.

This isn’t the first algal reactor we’ve featured here on Hackaday, we had this Arduino-powered one back in 2009. But mostly the algae that have appeared here have been of the bioluminescent variety, as with this teaching project, or this night light.

That’s Not Beer! A Biofuel Fermentation Controller Project


Any home brewer will recognize the setup pictured above as a temperature controlled fermentation chamber. They wouldn’t be wrong either. But you’re not going to drink what results. This project is aimed at providing a temperature controlled environment for fermenting biofuel.

[Benjamin Havey] and [Michael Abed] built the controller as their final project in his microprocessor class. The idea is to monitor and control the mini-refrigerator so that the strain of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae yeast produce as much ethanol as possible. An MSP430 microcontroller was used. It monitors a thermister with its analog to digital converter and drives a solid state relay to switch mains power to the fridge. At 41 degrees Fahrenheit this is down below what most lager yeasts want (which is usually in the low fifties). But the nice thing about using a microcontroller is you can set a schedule with different stages if you find a program that gives the yeast the best environment but requires more than one temperature level.

Who knew all that beer making was getting you ready to produce alternative fuels?

Sustainability Hacks: Bio-diesel Motorcycle Speed Record

Sometimes you don’t need a lot of horsepower to win a speed record. In a fluke of no one else competing in the alt fuel class,  [John]’s biodiesel motorcycle set a new land speed record at the LTA event last summer.

[John]’s bike is a junkyard 1978 Kawasaki KZ400. The stock engine was replaced with a Chinese knock off of a Yanmar air-cooled diesel motor. The fuel is regular old vegetable oil. From the looks of the exhaust, we’re assuming [John]’s garage has a rich french fry smell to it.

Compared to highway speeds, [John]’s runs for a land speed record are a little absurd – a nice bonus when you’re the only driver in your class. The first pass of 42 mph was a little disappointing, so [John] removed the fender, tail light and brakes. After all the unnecessary weight was removed, the top speed – and new record – was 56.5 mph.

Converting a diesel car to run on french fry oil is great and a lot better for the environment than burning liquefied dinosaurs. In any event, a green motorcycle is a lot better than 2000 pounds of automobile moving less than 200 pounds of person. Check out a few of [John]’s land speed runs after the break.

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