Assistant Professor, School of Biotechnology, Amrita University
Development of a Phototrophic Microbial Fuel Cell with sacrificial electrodes and a novel proton exchange matrix
If micro organisms can solve Sudoku and possibly have feelings, who is to say that they cannot also solve the planet’s energy crisis? Mr. Madhavan employs micro organisms to produce energy using microbial fuel cell (MFC). Micro organisms go through a series of cycles and pathways in order to survive, including the Electron Transport Pathway (ETP) in which bacteria release electrons which can be tapped as energy. In a two-chambered MFC, micro organisms interact with an anode in one chamber and in the presence of an oxidizing agent in the cathodic chamber scavenges electrons from the cathode. The two chambers are connected by an external circuit and connected to a load. In between the two chambers is a proton exchange membrane (PEM) which transports protons from the second chamber to the first and acts as a barrier for electrons. Therefore, a renewable source of energy can be maintained by just providing your bacterial culture with the proper nutrients to thrive and remain happy and satisfied (assuming they have emotions).
Mr. Madhavan has done extensive work on such MFCs and has experimented with various micro organisms and substrates to achieve high energy production. The phototropic MFC Mr. Madhavan designed using Synechococcus elongates using waste water as a substrate was able to generate approximately 10 mȦ and 1 volt of electricity. Other research in this area has even shown that using human urine can be used as a substrate for certain bacteria to produce enough energy to charge a mobile phone.
Although this microbial technology seems to be the “next big thing” (despite their small size) when it comes to renewable energy sources there is still a lot of work to be done before these bacteria batteries hit the market. As of now the MFCs are still much less efficient than solar cells and the search for the perfect bacteria and substrate continues.