You are on page 1of 3


Fuel Cell That Uses Bacteria To Generate Electricity

News Health & Medicine

Articles Mind & Brain

Videos Plants & Animals

Images Earth & Climate

Books Space & Time

Reference Matter & Energy

Search ... Computers & Math Save Email

Go Fossils & Ruins Print Share

Science News

... from universities, journals, and other research organizations

Fuel Cell That Uses Bacteria To Generate Electricity

Jan. 7, 2008 Researchers at the Biodesign Institute are using the tiniest organisms on the planet -- bacteria -- as a viable option to make electricity. In a new study featured in the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, lead author Andrew Kato Marcus and colleagues Cesar Torres and Bruce Rittmann have gained critical insights that may lead to commercialization of a promising microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology.
Share This: "We can use any kind of waste, such as sewage or pig manure, and the microbial fuel cell will generate electrical energy," said Marcus, a Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate student and a member of the institute's Center for Environmental Biotechnology. 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. "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 center. "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." Waste not

Just In: Ancient DNA Reveals Europe's Genetic History more break ing science news

Tw eet 12 295 10

See Also: Matter & Energy Fuel Cells Alternative Fuels Electricity Earth & Climate Energy and the Environment Renewable Energy Environmental Science

Bacteria have evolved to utilize almost any chemical as a food source. In the microbial fuel cell, bacteria form a biofilm, a living community that Social Networks is attached to the electrode by a stick y sugar and Recommend ScienceDaily on Facebook , Twitter, protein coated biofilm matrix. When grown without and Google +1: oxygen, the byproducts of bacterial metabolism of waste include carbon dioxide, electrons and hydrogen ions. Electrons produced by the bacteria The URL you requested has been blocked. are shuttled onto the electrode by the biofilm URL = matrix, creating a thriving ecosystem called the Tw eet 25.2K Follow 59.4K follow ers biofilm anode and generating electricity. (Credit: Janelle Curtis, Biodesign Institute at Arizona State +6764 Recommend this on Google University) Other book mark ing and sharing tools:

Related Stories
Electricity from the Marshes (Nov. 23, 2012) An unexpected source of new, clean energy has been found: the PlantMicrobial Fuel Cell that can generate electricity from the natural interaction between living plant roots and soil bacteria. The ... > read more Nano-Engineering Electrodes to Give Tiny Generators a Boost (Sep. 20, 2012) Could our waste be part of the answer to humanity's energy problems? Some researchers think so, thanks to bacteria that chow down on everything from sewage to heavy metals and give off electricity as ... > read more Biofuel Waste Product Recycled for Electricity (Sep. 4, 2012) A by-product of biofuel manufacture can power microbial fuel cells to generate electricity cheaply and efficiently, according to scientists. The work could help develop self-powered devices that ... > read more Stratospheric Superbugs Offer New Source of Power (Feb. 21, 2012) Bacteria normally found 30 kilometers above Earth have been identified as highly efficient generators of electricity. Bacillus stratosphericus -a microbe commonly found in high concentrations in ... > read more Hydrogen Distribution Not an Option in Biomass Gasification, Researcher Says (July 8, 2010) When using fuel cells to generate electricity from biomass, the best approach is to do so centrally, in combination with a gas turbine. The production and subsequent distribution of hydrogen is an ... > read more 'Rock-Breathing' Bacteria Could Generate Electricity and Clean Up Oil Spills (Dec. 15, 2009) A new discovery could contribute to the

| Share Share Share Share Share Share Share Share Share


Bacteria have such a rich diversity that researchers can find a bacterium Reference that can handle almost any waste Biomass compound in their daily diet. By Fuel cell linking bacterial metabolism directly Distributed with electricity production, the MFC generation eliminates the extra steps necessary Power station in other fuel cell technologies. "We like to work with bacteria, because bacteria provide a cheap source of electricity," said Marcus. There are many types of MFC reactors and research teams throughout the world. However, all reactors share the same operating principles. 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. In the first step of the MFC, an anode respiring bacterium breaks down the organic waste to carbon dioxide and transfers the electrons released to the anode. Next, the electrons travel from the anode, through an external circuit to generate electrical energy. Finally, the electrons complete the circuit by traveling to the cathode, where they are taken up by oxygen and hydrogen ions to form water. What is the matrix? "We knew that the MFC process is relatively stable, but one of the biggest questions is: How do the bacteria get the electrons to the anode?" said Marcus. The bacteria depend on the anode for life. The bacteria at the anode breathe the anode, much like people breathe air, by transferring electrons to the anode. Because bacteria use the anode in their metabolism, they strategically position themselves on the anode surface to form a bacterial community called a biofilm. Bacteria in the biofilm produce a matrix of material so that they stick to the anode. The biofilm matrix is rich with material that can potentially transport electrons. The sticky biofilm matrix is

Breaking News

... from

ACLU demands records on SW Kan. school assemblies Biologist pleads guilty to feeding killer whales Hubble telescope spies incoming Comet ISON Former Iowa teacher pleads guilty to misconduct Meteorite crashes through roof in Wolcott, Conn. Nebraska lawmakers advance climate change study Chesapeake Bay island amid a disappearing act Gun control fight spills over to federal research SoCal science museum wins national recognition Obama salutes national teacher of the year New deadline ordered for FDA food safety reforms more science news

In Other News ...

France vows Libya embassy attackers will pay



Fuel Cell That Uses Bacteria To Generate Electricity

development of systems that use domestic or agricultural waste to generate clean ... > read more Harnessing Bacteria To Make Fuel Cells More Efficient (Sep. 10, 2009) Bacteria that generate significant amounts of electricity could be used in microbial fuel cells to provide power in remote environments or to convert waste to electricity. Researchers isolated ... > read more Wastewater Produces Electricity And Desalinates Water (Aug. 7, 2009) A process that cleans wastewater and generates electricity can also remove 90 percent of salt from brackish water or seawater, according to an international team of researchers from China and the ... > read more Russia resumes trial of Putin critic Navalny Analysis: Crossing Obama's "red line" on Syria will require concrete proof Mexico reform drive hits setback amid political row Another China official dies during party detention China to build second, larger carrier: report Ex-bin Laden secretary gets life for 1998 embassy bombings role Yemeni at U.S. hearing describes drone strike on his village Venezuela's Maduro sends conciliatory message to U.S. Report urges Haiti to protect quake victims from forced evictions U.S. could waive duties on imports from Myanmar more top news

made up of a complex of extracellular proteins, sugars, and bacterial cells. The matrix also has been shown to contain tiny conductive nanowires that may help facilitate electron conduction. "Our numerical model develops and supports the idea that the bacterial matrix is conductive," said Marcus. In electronics, conductors are most commonly made of materials like copper that make it easier for a current to flow through . "In a conductive matrix, the movement of electrons is driven by the change in the electrical potential." Like a waterfall, the resulting voltage drop in the electrical potential pushes the flow of electrons. The treatment of the biofilm matrix as a conductor allowed the team to describe the transport of electrons driven by the gradient in the electrical potential. The relationship between the biofilm matrix and the anode could now be described by a standard equation for an electrical circuit, Ohm's law. Within the MFC is a complex ecosystem where bacteria are living within a self-generated matrix that conducts the electrons. "The whole biofilm is acting like the anode itself, a living electrode," said Marcus. "This is why we call it the 'biofilm anode.'" Life at the Jolt The concept of the 'biofilm anode' allowed the team to describe the transport of electrons from bacteria to the electrode and the electrical potential gradient. The importance of electrical potential is well known in a traditional fuel cell, but its relevance to bacterial metabolism has been less clear. The next important concept the team had to develop was to understand the response of bacteria to the electrical potential within the biofilm matrix. Bacteria will grow as long as there is an abundant supply of nutrients. Jacques Monod, one of the founding fathers of molecular biology, developed an equation to describe this relationship. While the team recognized the importance of the Monod equation for bacteria bathed in a rich nutrient broth, the challenge was to apply the Monod equation to the anode, a solid. Previous studies have shown that the rate of bacterial metabolism at the anode increases when the electrical potential of the anode increases. The researchers could now think of the electrical potential as fulfilling the same role as a bacterial nutrient broth. The team recognized that the electrical potential is equivalent to the concentration of electrons; and the electrons are precisely what the bacteria transfer to the anode. Equipped with this key insight, the team developed a new model, the Nernst-Monod equation, to describe the rate of bacterial metabolism in response to the "concentration of electrons" or the electrical potential. Promise meeting potential In their model, the team identified three crucial variables to controlling an MFC: the amount of waste material (fuel), the accumulation of biomass on the anode, and the electrical potential in the biofilm anode. The third factor is a totally novel concept in MFC research. "Modeling the potential in the biofilm anode, we now have a handle on how the MFC is working and why. We can predict how much voltage we get and how to maximize the power output by tweaking the various factors," said Marcus. For example, the team has shown that the biofilm produces more current when the biofilm thickness is at a happy medium, not too thick or thin. "If the biofilm is too thick," said Marcus, "the electrons have to travel too far to get to the anode. On the other hand, if the biofilm is too thin, it has too few bacteria to extract the electrons rapidly from the fuel." 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. Share this story on Facebook , Twitter, and Google:

Free Subscriptions

... from ScienceDaily

Get the latest science news with our free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader: Email Newsletters RSS Newsfeeds


... we want to hear from you!

Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions? Your Name: Your Email: Comments:

Click button to submit feedback: Save Email Print

Send It Share


Tw eet



Other social book mark ing and sharing tools: Share Share Share Share Share Share Share Share Share | Story Source:


The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Arizona State University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Fuel Cell That Uses Bacteria To Generate Electricity

Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of the following formats: APA MLA Arizona State University (2008, January 7). Fuel Cell That Uses Bacteria To Generate Electricity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from /releases/2008/01/080103101137.htm

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead. Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Search ScienceDaily
Find with k eyword(s):

Number of stories in archives: 135,880 Search

Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily's archives for related news topics, the latest news stories, reference articles, science videos, images, and books.

About ScienceDaily | Editorial Staff | Awards & Reviews | Contribute News | Advertise With Us | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use Copyright 1995-2012 ScienceDaily LLC All rights reserved Contact: Note: This web site is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.