Some of the planet's tiniest inhabitants may help address two of society's biggest environmental challenges: how to deal with the vast quantities of organic waste produced and where to find clean, renewable energy.
According to Csar Torres and Sudeep Popat, researchers at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, certain kinds of bacteria are adept at converting waste into useful energy. These microorganisms are presently being applied to the task, through an innovative technology known as a microbial fuel cell or MFC.
As Torres explains, "the great advantage of the microbial fuel cell is the direct conversion of organic waste into electricity. " In the future, MFC's may be linked to municipal waste streams or sources of agricultural and animal waste, providing a sustainable system for waste treatment and energy production.
To scale up the technology however, improvements in efficiency will be required. "My particular focus is to understand at a fundamental level how anode respiring bacteria transfer electrons from their cells onto an electrode," Popat says, "as well as to design new systems that are both economical and efficient."
The group was able to demonstrate that significant loss in MFC efficiency was due to reactions occurring at the fuel cell's cathode. By modifying materials used in the cathode, as well as adjusting pH levels, they were able to improve cathode performance.
The group's research results appeared recently in the journal ChemSusChem in a special issue devoted to MFC technology.
Torres and Popat work in Biodesign's Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, directed by ASU Regents' professor Bruce Rittmanna co-author of the current study. Environmental biotechnology is a rapidly developing discipline in which disparate fields including microbiology, bioinformatics, chemistry, genomics, materials science, and engineering join together to harness biological e
|Contact: Joseph Caspermeyer|
Arizona State University