What if you could turn single-use face masks into clean energy?

An estimated 3.4 billion face masks or face shields have been thrown away every single day since the beginning of the global pandemic, negatively impacting the environment and polluting oceans. And it is this challenge that two medical students from Barcelona are keen to combat.

The team are hoping their innovative STEM business concept will turn our global single-use plastic problem into a clean energy source.

After witnessing the volume of single-use masks used within their medical field they recruited a team of fellow students with STEM skills in economics, finance and biomedical engineering to form the business, Living Energy.

The team have developed an innovative concept that uses microbes to break down single-use plastic and generate electricity, solving plastic pollution and contributing to the clean energy transition.

Living Energy Logo

Pablo Luengo Martin, one half of team Living Energy, said: “We need STEM skills to solve problems like this. If there is no scientific basis to prove our project works then it can’t be turned from idea to product. Everything from data, research, critical thinking is essential in solving problems and these are all STEM skills. The Global Innovation Challenge allowed us to put forward our emerging idea. We like that the challenge also provided you with mentoring, help and resources.”

Technical detail

Living Energy's business solution relies on a technology known as microbial fuel cells, which deploys the power of microorganisms to generate electricity. However, recent investigations have been centred on incorporating these technologies as the basis for wastewater treatment, as microbes could use the organic matter present in it as substrates for electricity production, consuming or degrading them.

But what if face masks could also serve as potential substrates, as other organic residues? In this frame, their business model is oriented towards developing a microbial fuel cell prototype that is scalable and can generate value for customers by offering two services: electricity production, as well as the degradation of plastic residues, especially face masks.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

6: Clean Water and Sanitation
7: Affordable Clean Energy
11: Sustainable Cities Communities