Making more efficient fuel cells

Sep 07, 2009

Bacteria that generate significant amounts of electricity could be used in microbial fuel cells to provide power in remote environments or to convert waste to electricity. Professor Derek Lovley from the University of Massachusetts, USA isolated bacteria with large numbers of tiny projections called pili which were more efficient at transferring electrons to generate power in fuel cells than bacteria with a smooth surface. The team's findings were reported at the Society for General Microbiology's meeting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, today (7 September).

The researchers isolated a strain of Geobacter sulfurreducens which they called KN400 that grew prolifically on the anodes of fuel cells. The bacteria formed a thick biofilm on the anode surface, which conducted electricity. The researchers found large quantities of pilin, a protein that makes the tiny fibres that conduct electricity through the sticky biofilm.

"The filaments form microscopic projections called pili that act as microbial nanowires," said Professor Lovley, "using this bacterial strain in a to generate would greatly increase the cell's power output."

The pili on the bacteria's surface seemed to be primarily for electrical conduction rather than to help them to attach to the anode; mutant forms without pili were still able to stay attached.

Microbial fuel cells can be used in monitoring devices in environments where it is difficult to replace batteries if they fail but to be successful they need to have an efficient and long-lasting source of power. Professor Lovley described how G. sulfurreducens strain KN400 might be used in sensors placed on the ocean floor to monitor migration of turtles.

Source: Society for General Microbiology

Explore further: Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Research highlights how bacteria produce energy

May 22, 2006

The world's smallest life forms could be the answer to one of today's biggest problems: providing sustainable, renewable energy for the future. Using a variety of natural food sources, bacteria can be used to create electricity, ...

Pollution-eating bacteria produce electricity

Jun 07, 2005

Microbiologists seeking ways to eliminate pollution from waterways with microbes instead discovered that some pollution-eating bacteria commonly found in freshwater ponds can generate electricity. They present their findings ...

Researchers harness the power of bacteria

Aug 22, 2006

Looking for alternatives to world reliance on fossil fuels for energy, an interdisciplinary team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers is studying ways to generate electricity by feeding a species of photosynthetic ...

Recommended for you

New device could make large biological circuits practical

43 minutes ago

Researchers have made great progress in recent years in the design and creation of biological circuits—systems that, like electronic circuits, can take a number of different inputs and deliver a particular ...

Model evaluates where bioenergy crops grow best

4 hours ago

Farmers interested in bioenergy crops now have a resource to help them determine which kind of bioenergy crop would grow best in their regions and what kind of harvest to expect.

Vermicompost leachate improves tomato seedling growth

Nov 21, 2014

Worldwide, drought conditions, extreme temperatures, and high soil saline content all have negative effects on tomato crops. These natural processes reduce soil nutrient content and lifespan, result in reduced plant growth ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RayCherry
not rated yet Sep 07, 2009
Biological 'super' conductors ... now if only we could train the bacteria to lay circuit boards ... hmmm

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.