Want to save earth? Use bacteria-generated fuel cells

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Washington, Jan 7 (UNI) Fuel cells using bacteria as an energy source can be used to generate electrical energy, a study concluded.

''We can use any kind of waste, such as sewage or pig manure, and the microbial fuel cell will generate electrical energy,'' Andrew Kato Marcus, lead author of the study published in journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering said.

Unlike conventional fuel cells that rely on hydrogen gas as a fuel source, the microbial fuel cell can handle a variety of water-based organic fuels, he added.

''There is a lot of biomass out there that we look at simply as energy stored in the wrong place,'' said Bruce Rittmann, director of the Biodesign Institute, the center which conducted the reserach.

''We can take this waste, keeping it in its normal liquid form, but allowing the bacteria to convert the energy value to our society's most useful form, electricity. They get food while we get electricity,'' Science Daily today quoted him as saying.

Bacteria have such a rich diversity that researchers can find a bacterium that can handle almost any waste compound in their daily diet.

By linking bacterial metabolism directly with electricity production, the microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology eliminates the extra steps necessary in other fuel cell technologies.

''We like to work with bacteria, because bacteria provide a cheap source of electricity,'' said Mr Marcus.

All MFCs have a pair of battery-like terminals: an anode and cathode electrode. The electrodes are connected by an external circuit and an electrolyte solution to help conduct electricity. The difference in voltage between the anode and cathode, along with the electron flow in the circuit, generate electrical power, Mr Marcus explained.

Bacteria will grow as long as there is an abundant supply of nutrients, he added.

To harvest the benefits of MFCs, the research team is using its innovative model to optimize performance and power output. The project, which has been funded by NASA and industrial partners OpenCEL and NZLegacy, lays out the framework for MFC research and development to pursue commercialization of the technology.

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