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Published on September 1st, 2009 | by Jerry James Stone

Mud-Loving Bacteria Increases Fuel Cell Output by 800%

September 1st, 2009 by  
 

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Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst evolved a new strain of the Geobacter microbe that increases power output per cell by 800%.

The hairy mud-loving microbe uses its hairlike filaments–called pili–to produce an electric current from both mud and waste water. The pili are only 5 nanometers in diameter (20,000 times smaller than a human hair); they’re also a thousand times longer than they are wide. But they are strong!

“This new study shows that output can be boosted and it gives us good insights into what it will take to genetically select a higher-power organism.” The work, supported by the Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Department of Energy, is described in the August issue of the journal, Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

The pili–usually called nanowires–have an amazing ability to shift electrons. Which is exactly how they create a current from waste and mud.

Creating a unique biofilm, they transfer the electron products to iron in both soil and waste. It’s the same process that allows bacteria to stick to your teeth but requires less flossing.

“In very short order we increased the power output by eight-fold, as a conservative estimate,” says Derek Lovley from the research team. “With this, we’ve broken through the plateau in power production that’s been holding us back in recent years.”

These findings open many doors for microbial fuel cell architecture and will hopefully lead to many applications beyond extracting electricity from crap.

(more on page 2)





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About the Author

is a web developer, part-time blogger, and a full-time environmentalist. His crusade for all things eco started twenty years ago when he ditched his meat-and-potatoes upbringing for something more vegetarian-shaped. His passions include cooking, green tech, eco politics, and smart green design. And while he doesn't own a car anymore, he loves to write about those too. Jerry studied at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. During his time there he was a DJ at the campus station KCPR and he also wrote for the campus paper. Jerry currently resides in San Francisco, CA with his cat Lola. You can stalk him on Twitter @jerryjamesstone.



  • Now I’m left to wonder if scientists will breed some sort of giant 12-legged blob that is capable of consuming household trash and generate enough current to power the house.

  • Now I’m left to wonder if scientists will breed some sort of giant 12-legged blob that is capable of consuming household trash and generate enough current to power the house.

  • This (along with the many other alternatives) could be the future… I just hope that all these researches can actually be implemented mass-level production. It’s strange cos every so often, we here about a new technology under development which never actually becomes fruitful.

    Hope this does not tread that line 🙂 Good post.

  • This (along with the many other alternatives) could be the future… I just hope that all these researches can actually be implemented mass-level production. It’s strange cos every so often, we here about a new technology under development which never actually becomes fruitful.

    Hope this does not tread that line 🙂 Good post.

  • I love it!! I am amazed with this idea. Bravo!

  • I love it!! I am amazed with this idea. Bravo!

  • xoc

    What about reporting some actual useful information instead of just the PR hype that sounds impressive until you realise it doesn’t actually say anything.

    How much power can be produced? 800% more than what? How much energy is in the mud in the first place, and how long does it take to extract it? What do you do with the mud afterwards?

  • xoc

    What about reporting some actual useful information instead of just the PR hype that sounds impressive until you realise it doesn’t actually say anything.

    How much power can be produced? 800% more than what? How much energy is in the mud in the first place, and how long does it take to extract it? What do you do with the mud afterwards?

  • Uncle B

    The price of oil! $80.00 U.S. a bbl and rising! We had best Thank these noble scientists and give them a bunk one above our beloved football stars! We need the science more than the Average Yankee Doodle wage-earner on the street realizes – He is isolated by an immense and very powerful propaganda machine, his realities a dream they invent for him, protected from web truths by CNN, NBC, CBS,ABC, and kept shrouded from reality by water-cooler talk restricted by corporate imposed etiquettes! Small wonders in a time of great energy desperation in America, these bacteria, hope! Thank God for good science and technology, we need them to discover power sources, for our very breath, and the fuels for our nation, as the Middle East runs dry, and only very deep drilling’s yielding heavy, hard to pump, oils, little is found. As our hour of desperation, the end of the “Cheap Oil Era” and hence the end of the “Cheap Corn era”, followed by the collapse of the “Factory Farm Era” for lack of cheap feedstock, closing the whole of the “Supermarket Era” on American suburbia is at hand! Fight on noble Scientists, the American Neanderthal with his huge body, high calorie intake for survival is frail and can die without more food in a single day than an Asian needs for a week! Rescue these great lovable freedom fighters, the world is a better place with them than without! Give them power to continue their journey on earth, from even small bacteria!

  • Uncle B

    The price of oil! $80.00 U.S. a bbl and rising! We had best Thank these noble scientists and give them a bunk one above our beloved football stars! We need the science more than the Average Yankee Doodle wage-earner on the street realizes – He is isolated by an immense and very powerful propaganda machine, his realities a dream they invent for him, protected from web truths by CNN, NBC, CBS,ABC, and kept shrouded from reality by water-cooler talk restricted by corporate imposed etiquettes! Small wonders in a time of great energy desperation in America, these bacteria, hope! Thank God for good science and technology, we need them to discover power sources, for our very breath, and the fuels for our nation, as the Middle East runs dry, and only very deep drilling’s yielding heavy, hard to pump, oils, little is found. As our hour of desperation, the end of the “Cheap Oil Era” and hence the end of the “Cheap Corn era”, followed by the collapse of the “Factory Farm Era” for lack of cheap feedstock, closing the whole of the “Supermarket Era” on American suburbia is at hand! Fight on noble Scientists, the American Neanderthal with his huge body, high calorie intake for survival is frail and can die without more food in a single day than an Asian needs for a week! Rescue these great lovable freedom fighters, the world is a better place with them than without! Give them power to continue their journey on earth, from even small bacteria!

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