Electricity from bacteria possible

2011-05-24 08:38
Oslo - Microbes may be harnessed more easily to generate energy after a finding about how they naturally let off tiny electrical charges, scientists said on Monday.

The bacteria, found to have microscopic "wires" sticking through their cell walls, might also be used to clean up oil spills or uranium pollution, according to the report in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery about the exact structure of the bacteria and their atom-sized wires would permit researchers to design electrodes with better contacts to pick up the charges, let off by the microbes to avoid a build-up of electricity.

"We should be able to use this finding to harvest more electricity from the bacteria," said lead author Tom Clarke of the University of East Anglia in England.

"Until now it's been a bit like trying to build a radio when you don't know what type or size of battery you are going to put into it," he said.

Attractive power source

"Now we have a blueprint of what the battery looks like," he said of the study, also involving scientists at the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

"All living things generate electricity, it's not the stuff of science fiction," he added. Humans, for instance, use electricity to keep their hearts pumping and brains thinking.

And the bacteria use their wires to discharge excess electricity. "If they get a build-up of charge then everything else stops," from feeding to respiration, he said.

Still, it could take perhaps a decade to develop use of the bacteria, a type called Shewanella oneidensis that live in oxygen-free environments, as an attractive power source for everything from lights to mobile phone chargers.

Before that, existing uses of such bacteria needed to become 100 or 1 000 times more efficient, he said.

The findings could also help speed development of microbe-based agents to clean up oil or uranium pollution, as well as use of fuel cells powered by sewage or compost.

"These bacteria don't need energy-rich fuels. They can take in oil slicks, waste oil... degrade it and at the same time produce energy," he said of the research, funded by the British Biotechnology Council and the US Department of Energy.

Or in stricken nuclear plants, bacteria could separate uranium from waste water, he said. Microbes might in future be enlisted to clean up any accidents such as Japan's Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
Read more on:    technology  |  research

linking and moving

2015-04-22 07:36

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Rugby World Cup 2015

All the action from the 2015 RWC, including live coverage of all 48 matches, breaking news, fixtures, results, logs - and much more!


Rugby World Cup 2015

Debate over Lancaster rages on
US Eagles ready to take off
Samoan duo in hot water
Magic mile spurs on Springboks
Traffic Alerts

Are you burning the candle at both ends? Listen to your body and your emotional reactions. Know when to slow down or stop. It is a...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.