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Biofuel cells without the bio cells

mineral binding.

The researchers supplied the protein with energy--directly as electrons or in the form of a natural cellular fuel called NADH--and only during binding detected charge-transfer from protein to mineral, through a combination of techniques that included FCS, or fluorescent correlation spectroscopy, and confocal microscopy. These yielded a "fluorescence intensity trace" whose brightness depended entirely on whether hematite was available to bind with OmcA in solution. No hematite, dim; hematite, bright.

How bright?

"The peak current, or flux, doesn't run long, just a few seconds," Squier said, "but flux is at least as good as what you would find in the most efficient bioreactors, which rely on living bacteria."

Biological fuel cells, or biofuel cells, are not yet powerful enough to be commercially viable but they offer the promise of breaking down sewage and other biological waste while generating electricity directly from the same process. An example, Squier said, is a self-powering sewage treatment plant.

Using pure protein opens up the possibility of shrinking biofuel cells to power small electronic devices, Squier said. Whole-organism biofuel cells require engineers to design a space-adding membrane that prevents unwanted reactions between fuel, the charge-transporting agent and the electron-accepting metal, the latter being the electrode that carries the electricity to the device. In purified protein fuel cells, the seal made by the protein coating on the electrode effectively acts in place of the membrane.


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Source:DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory


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