Electro-bacteria take a step forward

Bacteria that produce hydrogen, munch waste-water goo and generate electricity in the process may be on their way to producing a viable energy source.

Prathap Parameswaran and his colleagues at Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have discovered a more efficient method to extract energy from the bacteria. A statement from ASU describes it this way: "Microbial electrochemical cells ... are able to use bacterial respiration as a means of liberating electrons, which can be used to generate current and make clean electricity. With minor reconfiguring such devices can also carry out electrolysis, providing a green path to hydrogen production."

The key? Relationships. Add some bacteria called homo-acetogens to the "sticky matrix of sugar and protein" formed by the original "anode" bacteria and the anodes "could convert hydrogen to current more efficiently," the ASU report says.

Tina Casey with CleanTechnica.com reported Sunday that while "the field of microbial fuel cells is still relatively new, ... it has been developing rapidly thanks in part to interest by the U.S. military’s move away from fossil fuels." She also mentioned in a post Sunday that "New Zealand researchers have been exploring a process for reclaiming high pressure steam from waste water, which can be used to generate electricity" and that in the United States, a number of companies are converting waste water to biofuel.

And the ASU researchers acknowledge being a long way from commercialization of the process. Cesar Torres, a co-author of the study, said: "I think over the next five to 10 years, the community will bring a lot of information that will be really helpful and that will lead us to good applications."

For more on microbial energy developments, read this past post on algae biofuels.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.
Photo courtesy ASU.