Most of the energy need of the world is served using fossil fuels is not anything new. With the world population projected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, the pursuit to provide adequate sustainable energy with minimum climate change is a challenge.
In the recent years, one idea that has become popular is to produce electricity using bacteria in devices called microbial fuel cells. Function-wise, microbial fuel cells depend on the ability of certain naturally present microorganisms that display the ability to breathe metals, wherein electrons are exchanged to produce electricity. In fact, this process can be accelerated using substances called substrates, including organic materials found in wastewater.
Microbial fuel cells currently find use for small devices
Meanwhile, presently, microbial fuel cells produce electricity to provide energy for small devices such as small fans, calculators, and LEDs. However, if the technology behind microbial fuel cells is scaled, it holds immense promise.
In terms of function, microbial fuel cells use a system of cathodes and anodes – electrodes that transfer current either in or out. In a common configuration, microbial fuel cells comprise a cathode chamber and an anode chamber divided by a membrane. Herein, the bacteria grows on the anode and converts substrates into protons, carbon dioxide, and electrons.
Following this, the electrons produced are transferred via an external circuit to the cathode chamber, while protons drift through the membrane. In the intermediate step, in the cathode chamber, protons and electrons react using up oxygen to form water. And as long as conversion of substrates happens, electrons are transferred – resulting in electricity.
Meanwhile, producing electricity through microbial fuel cells has a number of advantages. First, they can be set anywhere, second, they form less sludge than conventional techniques.