Gallery: Light the World Using Dirt Powered Fuel Cells!


Take a little bit of soil, add some microbes, a little bit of human ingenuity and you’ll find yourself with the most unlikely source of power ever – dirt! Building off of this simple concept, a team from Harvard led by Hugo Van Vuuren have just been named amongst the winners of the World Bank’s Lighting Africa 2008 Development Competition. Their idea is to develop a series of dirt based fuel cells that are capable of lighting high efficiency LED lamps and their goal is to light up Africa.

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  1. wabanaki October 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Aside from this project being about as sustainable as bottled water, there has also been some concern that Lebone’s technology is not actually a microbial fuel cell, but a simple acid battery…

    However, there are a few other existing options out there for experimentation. Anyone can make their own microbial fuel cell fairly easily. Check out KeegoTech’s MudWatt for example.

  2. Stephanie82 May 24, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I believe this to be a great idea and maybe a possible solution to solving the energy crisis in lighting Africa, but is it really going to be all that simple? As posted by Androo if the fuel cell requires new material as previously stated then will this really be all that of a working solution? Or will such a project only great more problems in the long run to Africa’s enegry crisis?

  3. hugh May 23, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Not impressed!

    The energy (and technology) that is in the electrodes, the bio-film and the mystical circuit board (a wee booster circuit??) – oh, and in the container! are in all way in excess of the power that might be delivered.

    What is wrong with solar powered LED units with a better battery maintenance circuit?? – less muss, less fuss and higher power densities – and you don’t have to muck with it. The common garden solar lights are the same technology – but their construction and batteries are crap, but they embody the general principles.

    I think that this is a ‘feel good’ for people who like playing in mud.


  4. Scott May 22, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I think this is a great project and is a wonderful first step in discovering organic power sources. Although i don’t see this lighting africa in the next few years i think this type of thinking could eventually do just that.

  5. Androo May 22, 2008 at 11:25 am

    While I love the idea of free energy, and admire their ingenuity, I’m concerned that the power density in this situation remains a bit of a stumbling block.

    1 cubic meter of organic material is a lot of organic material (has anyone else worked as a landscaper?), especially for 1 LED light. Even if you only needed to run that light for half the day, you’d still need a cube 80x80x80cm to charge the battery. If the fuel cell doesn’t need fresh material for the microbes to break down, this might be a workable solution, but if they do, it’s a lot of effort to put in for a single light.

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