- Category: Technology
14 Aug 2012
- Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012 09:14
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Engineers at Oregon State University have developed a microbial fuel cell that they claim can produce electricity from wastewater at a volume 10 to 50 times more than the current technology.
Microbial fuel cells create energy from the catalytic reactions of microorganisms. In the microbial fuel cell devised at Oregon State, bacteria oxidize the organic matter in wastewater to produce electrons which run from the fuel cell’s anode and cathode, creating an electrical current.
“If this technology works on a commercial scale the way we believe it will, the treatment of wastewater could be a huge energy producer, not a huge energy cost,” said Hong Liu, an associate professor in the Oregon State department of biological and ecological engineering.
The researchers redesigned their fuel cell, reducing anode-cathode spacing and using new microbes and separator materials to produce more than 2 kilowatts per cubic meter, a power density they claim is greater than anything seen in other microbial fuel cells.
According to Ms. Liu, their system has been proven at a substantial scale in the laboratory and they are currently seeking funding to conduct a pilot study.
In theory, the system could work with any type of organic waste, including grass straw, animal waste and other by products. In this case, the microbial fuel cell could also provide an alternative to anaerobic digestion, which also uses bacteria to breakdown waste into energy.
The advantage of using the device would be that it creates energy directly without any harmful byproducts. Anaerobic digestion creates methane that can be used for fuel but is also a potent greenhouse gas. Leaks from anaerobic digestion facilities could contribute to rising emission levels. – EcoSeed Staff