Bacteria could become a future source of electricity

March 26, 2019

In recent years, researchers have tried to capture the electrical current that bacteria generate through their own metabolism. So far, however, the transfer of the current from the bacteria to a receiving electrode has not been efficient at all. Now, researchers from institutions including Lund University have achieved a slightly more efficient transfer of electrical current.

One of society's greatest challenges is to meet the need for renewable and sustainable energy. Interest is growing around one potential such energy source: bacteria.

"We pick up electrons from the bacterium and transfer them to an electrode. This enables us to obtain an electrical current from the bacteria in real time, while they are eating, as it were", explains Lo Gorton, professor of chemistry at Lund University in Sweden.

"This study is a breakthrough in our understanding of extracellular electron transfer in bacteria", he says.

Extracellular electron transfer refers to the current that bacteria can generate outside their own cell. The difficulty when extracting the energy is to produce a molecule that can get through the bacterium's thick cell wall to retrieve the electrons there more efficiently. In the current study, the researchers created an artificial molecule for this purpose, known as a redox polymer. The type of bacteria studied is a common intestinal bacterium present in both animals and humans, Enterococcus faecalis.

The results of the study are valuable not only for their potential with regard to future bacterial electrical energy; they also increase our understanding of how bacteria communicate with their surroundings. The bacteria themselves probably use extracellular electron transfer to communicate, both with other bacteria and with molecules.

"Electron transfer could be of great significance for how the bacteria communicate with various molecules and with each other in our digestive system, but also for how nature functions in a broader perspective. It is thought today that many geological processes are bacteria-driven", says Lo Gorton.

Understanding how bacteria function and communicate is valuable in many contexts. For example, bacteria and other micro-organisms can be used to produce biofuel, in what is known as microbial biofuel cells. Of particular interest in an energy context are the photosynthesising bacteria. If they are attached to an electrode, they can generate electric energy when exposed to light. This has been shown by Lo Gorton and his colleagues in previous studies.

Deeper knowledge about bacteria is also significant in terms of potentially using them to purify wastewater, to produce molecules that are difficult to synthesise or to reduce carbon dioxide into a more usable form, for example.
-end-


Lund University

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

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.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.