A team of scientists has looked to the heavens for a way to double the energy produced by microbial fuel cells (MFCs), using bacteria usually found 30km from the Earth’s surface.
If sci-fi B-movies are anything to go by, then life-forms from outer space are not usually the benevolent type. However, researchers reckon that Bacillus stratosphericus could in fact be used to help save the planet by generating electricity, like another famous extraterrestrial.
The bacteria is usually found to be in high concentrations way up in the stratosphere in the realm of satellites. Having found the microbe down here on terrafirma in the Wear Estuary, County Durham, the researchers at Newcastle University were able to engineer a biofilm that could generate a lot more energy than is usually possible with an MFC.
Previously it has been possible to generate around 105 Watts per cubic metre, the biofilm has been able to reach 200 Watts per cubic metre.
This may not be a massive amount but the environmentally sound method of energy production is enough for small applications, such as providing a light source. The researchers reckon that this could mean it would be very useful in developing countries where there is little electricity grid infrastructure, and little access to basics such as light.
The microbe is thought to have reached the bed of the River Wear after dropping down to earth due to atmospheric cycle processes. This allowed it to be processed and isolated from the numerous other microbes found, presumably separating from the other junk such as disused trollies, broken tellies, or David Walliams’ that accumulate in rivers these days.
By manipulating the microbial mix the team was able to engineer a biofilm. While this is not new in itself, the ability to generate much more power was innovative, using the usual MFC process of converting organic compounds into electricity via bio-catalytic oxidation.
This works by coating the electrodes of the MFC in the stratospheric microbial ooze, with the bacteria producing electrons as they feed, generating electricity.
In addition to B. Stratosphericus the team were able to add more names to TechEye’s list of favourite electricity producing microbes, with Bacillus altitudinis – another space-bound microbe – and Bacteroidetes also used.