Microbial fuel cells

Fuel cell on lab bench

Photograph by Dr Rosalind Allen. © The University of Edinburgh

Microbial fuel cells are low-power devices that use microbes (single-celled living organisms) to convert wastewater into electricity. A huge range of organic compounds can be converted into carbon dioxide, water and energy by a population of bacteria each of which is roughly 1 micron in size. Consumption of these compounds is a normal part of the micro-organisms metabolism; in a microbial fuel cell part of the energy liberated is harvested in the form of electricity.

An extensive program of experimental work and metabolic modeling of microbial fuel cells has been established in Edinburgh University by Igor Goryanin, Slava Fedorovich, Hongwu Ma (Informatics) and Andrew Free, Bruce Ward (Biology).

This activity links closely to SUPA research in Physics and the Life Sciences (PaLS). Here there is fundamental interest in the collective behaviour and evolution of bacteria. In the area of microbial fuel cellls we are contributing by modeling the population dynamics of communities of bacteria:

In collaboration with this group, we aim to develop simple theoretical models to understand how populations of microbes grow in these devices, how different populations compete with each other, and ultimately to predict device performance under different conditions.

People involved: Rosalind Allen, Mike Cates

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