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.
"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."
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 MFC 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 Marcus.
There are many types of MFC reactors and research teams throughout the world (http://microbialfuelcell.org). 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 dif
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Arizona State University