Researchers in Trondheim have succeeded in getting bacteria to power a fuel cell. The “fuel” used is wastewater, and the products of the process are pure water droplets and electricity.
“This is an environmentally-friendly process for the purification of water derived from industrial processes and suchlike”, says SINTEF researcher Luis Cesar Colmenares, who is running the project together with his colleague Roman Netzer. “It also generates small amounts of electricity – in practice enough to drive a small fan, a sensor or a light-emitting diode”, he says.
In the future, the researchers hope to scale up this energy generation to enable the same energy to be used to power the water purification process, which commonly consists of many stages, often involving mechanical and energy-demanding decontamination steps at its outset.
Nature’s own generator
The biological fuel cell is powered by entirely natural processes – with the help of living microorganisms.
“In simple terms, this type of fuel cell works because the bacteria consume the waste materials found in the water”, explains Colmenares. “As they eat, the bacteria produce electrons and protons. The voltage that arises between these particles generates energy that we can exploit. Since the waste in the wastewater (organic material) is consumed and thus removed, the water itself becomes purified”, he says.
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