Thursday, September 11, 2008

Energy from Pathogens

First, (L-R) MIT Professors Chiang, Belcher, and Hammond who have co-authored a paper on virus-based batteries (photo: MIT News); second, the microbial fuel cell by Lebone consists of a bucket, wastewater, and a graphite sheet (photo: Lebone)

Rather than having your energy sucked out of you by pathogens, how about making energy from them?? Yes, its actually happening!

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with ways to use viruses to power batteries. The MIT Press release stated:
the technique itself "does not involve any expensive equipment, and is done at room temperature," said Belcher, the Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering.

"To our knowledge, this is the first instance in which microcontact printing has been used to fabricate and position microbattery electrodes and the first use of virus-based assembly in such a process," wrote MIT professors Paula T. Hammond, Angela M. Belcher, Yet-Ming Chiang, and colleagues. [...]

On the other end, Lebone Solutions, a startup founded by African students now based in Cambridge, MA, has come up with a novel type of microbial fuel cell. According to the Technology Review:
"[African] people want to power [small] DC devices," as opposed to large AC devices like a refrigerator, says Lebônê cofounder Hugo Van Vuuren, a Harvard graduate and a South African native. The team hopes to develop the technology to make it competitive with other renewable energies in countries across Africa. Microbial fuel cells could have a distinct advantage because they are initially cheaper to build than a windmill and easier to set up than solar panels. What's more, they could last up to 10 years, says Lebônê cofounder David Sengeh.

Instead of using hydrogen as a fuel, as do conventional fuel cells, microbial fuel cells use naturally occurring microbes to generate power. Bacteria live in the anode, where they eat glucose, sewage, or other waste water, and turn that into electrons and protons. The bacteria transfer electrons to the circuit, which provides small amounts of power.[...]
You can also view a multimedia show on the DIY portion here.

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