Nav: Home

Researchers create self-sustaining bacteria-fueled power cell

March 22, 2017

BINGHAMTON, NY - Instead of oil, coal, or even solar energy, self-sustaining bacterial fuel cells may power the future.

Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York have developed the next step in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) with the first micro-scale self-sustaining cell, which generated power for 13 straight days through symbiotic interactions of two types of bacteria.

"This concept of creating electricity through synergistic cooperation is not new. However, much of this work is still in its nascent stages," said Binghamton University Electrical and Computer Science Assistant Professor Seokheun Choi, who is one of the co-authors of "Self-sustaining, solar-driven bioelectricity generation in micro-sized microbial fuel cell using co-culture of heterotrophic and photosynthetic bacteria," along with PhD candidate Lin Liu.

"The evolution of this technology will require additional exploration, but we, for the first time, realized this conceptual idea in a micro-scale device," Choi said.

In a cell chamber about one-fifth the size of a teaspoon--90 microliters--researchers placed a mixed culture of phototrophic and heterotrophic bacteria. Phototrophic bacteria uses sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to make its own energy, while heterotrophic bacteria must "feed" on provided organic matter or phototrophic bacteria to survive - think of cows grazing in a grassy field.

While the cell was exposed to sunlight, an initial dose of "food" was added to the chamber to stimulate growth of the heterotrophic bacteria. Through cellular respiration, the heterotrophic bacteria produced carbon dioxide waste, which was used by the phototrophic bacteria to kickstart the symbiotic cycle.

After that cycle was established, researchers stopped adding additional "food" sources for the heterophic bacteria, and there was enough phototrophic bacteria to sustain the metabolic processes of the heterophic bacteria. Those metabolic processes generated an electrical current--8 microamps per square centimeter of cell--for 13 straight days. The power was about 70 times greater than current produced by phototrophic bacteria alone.

"Heterotrophic bacteria-based fuel cells generate higher power, while photosynthetic microbial fuel cells provide self-sustainability. This is the best of both worlds, thus far," Choi said.

The breakthrough is promising, but it is an early step in the development of bacteria-generated power. Overall, the miniature size of the cells allows for a short start-up time and small electrical resistances to overcome. However, a common 42" high-definition television takes about half an amp of electrical current to function which would, theoretically, require roughly 62,500 cells from the experiment. In reality, these cells will be used to provide power in remote or dangerous locations for low-power items like health monitors and infrastructure diagnostic sensors.

"There are some challenges of using this technique," Choi said. "Balancing both microorganisms' growth to maximize the device performance and the need to make sure that this closed system will permanently generate power without additional maintenance are two we have found. Long-term experiments are needed."

The current work is the latest in a series of battery-related and microbial-based power studies Choi has worked on. Last spring, researchers connected nine biological-solar (bio-solar) cells into a working bio-solar panel for the first time ever. The bacteria used in that experiment were phototrophic. That panel generated the most wattage of any existing small-scale bio-solar cells: 5.59 microwatts. Choi has also developed an origami-inspired microbe-based paper battery, a microbe-based battery that can use human saliva as a power source, a battery that can be printed on paper and battery designs inspired by Japanese ninja throwing stars.
-end-
The paper will appear in the Journal of Power Sources on April 30.

Binghamton University

Related Bacteria Articles:

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.
Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.
Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.
Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.
Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
Bacteria uses viral weapon against other bacteria
Bacterial cells use both a virus -- traditionally thought to be an enemy -- and a prehistoric viral protein to kill other bacteria that competes with it for food according to an international team of researchers who believe this has potential implications for future infectious disease treatment.
Drug diversity in bacteria
Bacteria produce a cocktail of various bioactive natural products in order to survive in hostile environments with competing (micro)organisms.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.