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Fuel Cell Uses Microbes to Produce Renewable Electricity From Sewage Water

Updated on September 30, 2018
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Microbial Fuel Cell Diagram

A Microbial Fuel Cell Converts Waste Sewage Water Into Electricity
A Microbial Fuel Cell Converts Waste Sewage Water Into Electricity | Source

Using Microbes To Produce Renewable Electricity From Sewage Water

Scientists at the Rockville, Maryland based Craig Venter Institute revealed a microbial fuel cell that uses microbes to produce renewable electricity from sewage water. The scientists claim that the microbial fuel cell can convert up to 13 percent of the potential energy stored in sewage water into electricity that can be used to offset the electricity demands of a sewagetreatment plant and could also assist in the treatment of sewage water.

How a Fuel Cell Uses Microbes To Produce Renewable Electricity From Sewage Water

A microbial fuel cell makes use of naturally occurring microbes within sewage water to collect electrons and protons that are produced by the microbes as they metabolize (digest) the organic waste contained in sewage water. The electrons produced by the microbes are collected in an anode container, while the protons produced by the microbes filter through a permeable membrane within the fuel cell to a separate cathode container. The difference in charge between the anode and cathode containers creates voltage between the two containers (electrodes) that results in a useful electric current.

When the microbes metabolize the organic waste contained in sewage water to produce electricity, they also remove a significant amount of organic matter (approximately 97%), which could assist in the treatment of sewage water. There is the possibility that microbial fuel cells could be used as an alternative sewage water treatment method, while producing electricity as a side benefit.

The amount of electricity utilized by sewage treatment plants that treat sewage water is not an insignificant amount. It totals approximately two percent of the electricity used in the United States each year. If sewage treatment plants in the United States and around the world install microbial fuel cells to offset their electricity needs, they will not only lessen the demand for electricity by producing it on-site via a renewable resource, they will also save a considerable amount of money that is currently spent on purchasing electricity.

Using Nanotechnology: The Next Step In Microbial Fuel Cell Technology

A microbial fuel cell has two electrodes, a positive anode and a negative cathode. An electrical current is produced by a microbial fuel cell when a charge is passed between the two electrodes. Increasing the capability of an anode to transmit its charge to a cathode increases the electrical output of a microbial fuel cell.

Researchers at Oregon State University with the goal of increasing the efficiency and output of microbial fuel cells have developed a metal anode coating method that uses nanotechnology to dramatically increase the amount of electricity that is produced by microbial fuel cells.

Research has indicated that coating the graphite anodes in microbial fuel cells with a tiny nanoparticle scale layer of gold or palladium resulted in a dramatic increase in efficiency and electricity production from the fuel cells. Coating anodes with gold nanoparticles resulted in as much as twenty times more electricity output as microbial fuel cells with untreated anodes. Palladium nanoparticle anode coatings also increased the output of microbial fuel cells, but not as much as gold. Since both gold and palladium are expensive precious metals, researchers intend to look at less costly metals, such as iron, for use as nanoparticle anodes treatments to increase electricity output from microbial fuel cells.

Sewage Treatment Plant: A Future Renewable Energy Source

Microbial Fuel Cells Could Be Net Energy Producers

If the electricity conversion efficiency of microbial fuel cells can be increased to between twenty and twenty-five percent of the potential energy stored in sewage water, then these innovative fuel cells could produce enough electricity to provide all of the electricity sewage treatment plants require to operate. Any efficiency gains beyond this break-even level would be excess renewable electricity that could be sold to other electricity consumers through the power grid.

Using microbes to produce renewable electricity from sewage water is a clean and green energy technology that could have a substantial impact on both the reduction of the cost of sewage water treatment and the production of renewable energy.

MudWatt Microbial Fuel Cell - How It Works

Innovative Wastewater Treatment Solutions Uses Microbial Fuel Cell

© 2012 John Coviello

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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting, and useful information, your research is to the point and most helpful to a reader in learning more on this topic.

    • GoGreenTips profile image

      Greg Johnson 

      7 years ago from Indianapolis

      Very interesting hub! There are so many options to our energy problems one can't help but wonder what is keeping from utilizing alternative energy sources.

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