Microbial fuel cells could solve the waste management problem in the US

June 2, 2014 0 By Tami Hood

Microbial fuel cells - Wastewater

Wastewater represents an untapped energy resource for the US

A great deal of potential energy is wasted in the U.S. due to the country’s sewage system. Wastewater contains approximately 10 times the electrical power that is needed to process it, but the U.S. does not currently focus on converting this wastewater into energy. As much as 3% of the country’s energy is spent on processing wastewater without getting any kind of return in terms of electrical power. Microbial fuel cells may be the solution to this problem, as they can produce electricity through the consumption of waste.

Researchers begin focusing on microbial fuel cells

A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Laboratory for Energy and Microsystems Innovative have been working on a way to use microbial fuel cells to generate power from wastewater. The endeavor is ambitious considering the low energy density of microbial fuel cells, but the Laboratory for Energy and Microsystems Innovation has successfully designed affordable fuel cell batteries that require no membranes in the past. Taking advantage of the momentum of such a breakthrough, the research team may be able to find an efficient and effective way to convert massive amounts of waste into electrical power.

Tiny fuel cells manage to generate electricity from waste products

The research team has developed small-scale microfluidic microbial fuel cells that are meant to explore the concept of generating electrical power from waste. The fuel cells are capable of transforming organic material, sugars, and acetate into electricity with relative ease. The small size of these fuel cells makes them somewhat impractical, but the research team has managed to form a better understanding of what it takes to convert waste into usable energy by examine the capabilities of these fuel cells.

Fuel cells are gaining more attention outside of the auto industry

Fuel cells are often associated with transportation because they have become quite popular within the auto industry. Before fuel cells were being used in vehicles, however, they were often used for industrial purposes because of their ability to produce large amounts of electrical power. Now, fuel cells are being used in the waste management field, where they are showing that they have the ability to efficiently produce energy from waste products.