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A Remote, Self-Sustained System for Monitoring Water Quality Near Highways

Project Information

Project ID: 
Project Status: 
Start Date: 
Friday, March 15, 2013
End Date: 
Saturday, August 15, 2015
FHWA Program: 
Exploratory Advanced Research
FHWA Subprogram: 
New Technology and Advanced Policies for Energy and Resource Conservation
FHWA Activity: 
Highway Safety Improvement Program
TRT Terms: 
Water quality, Remote sensing, Fuel cells, Runoff, Research, Technology, Highways
FHWA Discipline: 
Subject Area: 
Environment, Research

Contact Information

First Name: 
Last Name: 
(202) 366-4196
Email Address: 
Project Mitigation Team
Office of Project Development and Environmental Review
Office Code: 

Project Details

Project Description: 

This research project will enable in situ monitoring of water quality near highways (e.g., stormwater runoff that occurs in the spring) by applying a self-organized and sustainable sensing system. After their first deployment, sensors can operate continuously for many years without the need for recharging or replacing batteries because they are powered by novel microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that harvest electricity through electrochemical reactions using bacteria, which are abundant in streams. The sensing system automatically measures the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of water, periodically transmitting collected data wirelessly to a nearby base station and then on to a remote data center. This visionary technology takes advantage of technical breakthroughs found in the fields of MFCs, bioenergy harvesting, power regulation, data processing and management, sensor network, and wireless communication.


The research activities include the design and development of:

  • A microbial fuel cell (MFC) system that can deliver voltage up to 3.0 volts, current up to 25 milliamps, and capacity up to 2,400 milliamp-hours of renewable power in an aqueous environment.
  • A power management system that regulates the power voltage generated from MFCs to provide a stable and accurate 5.0 volt, 100 milliamp DC battery that will support the data processing and communication systems.
  • A control system that intelligently collects, processes, and transmits real-time water quality data.