Stainless Steel Catalyst Lowers Cost of Microbial Fuel Cells

Feb 23, 2009 by Lisa Zyga weblog
Stainless Steel Cathode
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have replaced expensive platinum with a stainless steel bristle brush as the catalyst in microbial fuel cells. Image credit: Bruce Logan.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Tiny bacteria munching on and metabolizing biodegradable materials can produce electrons that could be harnessed by microbial fuel cells for energy. By taking advantage of the catalytic reactions of these microorganisms to convert chemical energy to electric energy, microbial fuel cells could be a promising method for generating hydrogen fuel.

One way to improve microbial fuel cells' efficiency is by adding a small jolt of electricity at the cathode, while the bacteria feed at the anode. However, the best cathode material currently known is platinum, an expensive precious metal.

Recently, researchers at Pennsylvania State University led by Bruce Logan have discovered that a stainless steel brush works just as efficiently as platinum, cutting the cost of the cathode by more than 80 percent. As Logan explained, the requirement for platinum had been holding back development of microbial fuel cells, and the stainless steel alternative should enable scientists to push forward with their research.

One key to making stainless steel an effective catalyst was increasing the surface area of the cathode by arranging the stainless steel in the shape of a bristle brush, with densely packed bristles. The researchers predict that they can improve stainless steel's efficiency even further by making modifications such as minimizing the hydrogen bubbles that get trapped between the bristles.

Other challenges still remain in microbial fuel cell research before the technology becomes economical, such as the problem of scaling the device and maintaining its efficiency. Nevertheless, as Patrick Hallenbeck at the University of Montreal told Technology Review, researchers have made tremendous progress in microbial fuel cells in the past few years.

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

via: Technology Review

Explore further: Researchers develop the first mobile charging system for electric vehicles

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Renewable hydrogen production becomes reality at winery

Sep 29, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The first demonstration of a renewable method for hydrogen production from wastewater using a microbial electrolysis system is underway at the Napa Wine Company in Oakville. The refrigerator-sized hydrogen ...

Recommended for you

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

2 hours ago

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

2 hours ago

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

2 hours ago

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

Wireless power transfer achieved at five-meter distance

3 hours ago

The way electronic devices receive their power has changed tremendously over the past few decades, from wired to non-wired. Users today enjoy all kinds of wireless electronic gadgets including cell phones, ...

Environmentally compatible organic solar cells

Apr 16, 2014

Environmentally compatible production methods for organic solar cells from novel materials are in the focus of "MatHero". The new project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) aims at making ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

There's something ancient in the icebox

Glaciers are commonly thought to work like a belt sander. As they move over the land they scrape off everything—vegetation, soil, and even the top layer of bedrock. So scientists were greatly surprised ...