Generating Electrcity from Bacteria is Now a Thing!

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Bacteria technology: perhaps the biggest oxymoron you’ve ever heard of. But apparently, bacteria have more in common with our favourite tech gadgets than we know. Apparently, compounds found in dirt can help generate electricity from bacteria now!

It’s no secret that fossil fuels are an ongoing cause of environmental degradation. Three-fourths of human caused emissions are generated through burning fossil fuels. This is the motivation behind scientists’ turn toward microbial fuel cells (MFCs) as a potential end to this process. Researchers at Kaunas University of Technology in Lithuania are working with MFCs to potentially generate electricity.

How Bacteria is Extracted:

MFCs are powered by living microorganisms. They can generate electricity from organic compounds, and do not depend on sunlight. Microbial fuel production is the only technology in which electricity is generated from the oxidation of organic materials under room temperature.

Looking at microorganisms to generate electricity is not something new. In fact, it was introduced in 1911, and resurfaced in the 2000s. Incidentally, it is now coming under intense investigation because of climate change issues.

Where Does Wastewater Factor in?

Firstly, it’s important to recognize the multi-functions of MFC technology. The wastewater and slime that is collected in wastewater treatment plants can be used as food for bacteria.

electricity from bacteria

Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania: creativecommons.org

What is MFC?

It is comprised of two electrodes – an anode, and a cathode. The two electrodes are linked by an electrical connection. The role of bacteria here is to breathe out the electrons onto the anode. The electrons can then be collected as an electrical current.

At this point, the electrons are passed to the cathode to complete the electrical circuit. This creates a battery of sorts.

The Implications of MFC:

Integrating MFC into the treatment of wastewater systems would reduce the use of electrical energy, and turn plants into closed ecosystems. This increase in energy can bleed into the electricity grid and be reused in various electrical endeavours.

Getting Down and Dirty:

Some bacteria generate electricity. Yes, you read that correctly. As part of their “metabolism” certain bacteria create electricity by using proteins in their cell membranes. We can use this electricity from bacteria through using microbial fuel cells.

The bacteria present in sewage, mud, or waste is capable of producing electricity. How cool is that?

Future Predictions of this Technology:

The problem remains that governments realize the impacts of fossil fuels, yet most policies are slow to reflect concerns. Sure, initiatives and laws around industrial production have harshened. However, most first-world carbon footprints aren’t exactly impressive. Technologies like this are gaining leverage at conventions and in media sources, but it may never replace existing methods.

Researchers aren’t predicting or insinuating that MFC technology to replace other sources of renewable energy. Kaunas University researchers will introduce the results of this research in May at the Topical Meeting of International Society of Electrochemistry in Vilnius.We wish them luck!

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About Author

Nadia Zaidi

Nadia Zaidi is a freelance multimedia journalist whose work is featured in several print and digital publications. She previously developed and hosted a show on youth issues for community television, and produces short-documentaries for public outreach. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ryerson University.

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