Bacteria and microbes have long been discussed as potential renewable power sources, like microbial fuel cells using bacteria to convert organic compounds directly into electricity by a process known as bio-catalytic oxidation. Now a team in the UK from the University of Newcastle believes they can double the output of such electrical generation with the help of extraterrestrial bacteria.
Let us explain: 30 miles above the Earth, within the planet’s stratosphere, there can be found specific types of bacteria. Two microbe types in particular, bacillus stratosphericus and B. altitudinis, are not only numerous in space, but have been found to be good conductors of electricity. Thanks to the Earth’s atmospheric cycling process, the university team has been collecting and isolating the bacteria from the River Wear.
The team tested the power generation of over 75 different species of bacteria by coating the electrodes of a microbial fuel cell with a special biofilm. When the bacteria ‘fed,’ they produced electrons that passed into the electrodes and generated electricity. However, by using the space bacteria, the team was able to create an artificial biofilm that doubled the electrical output of the MFC from 105 Watts per cubic metre to 200 Watts per cubic metre. This may not sound like much, but it’s enough to run an electric light, and the discovery has great potential.
Speaking about the team’s research, Grant Burgess, Professor of marine biotechnology said: “What we have done is deliberately manipulate the microbial mix to engineer a biofilm that is more efficient at generating electricity. This is the first time individual microbes have been studied and selected in this way. Finding B. altitudinis was quite a surprise but what it demonstrates is the potential of this technique for the future – there are billions of microbes out there with the potential to generate power.”
The Newcastle team’s research can be read about in the latest issue of the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.
via TG Daily
Lead image: Ha-Wee