As the news of overheating lithium-ion batteries continues to surface, the industry is working to develop fuel and energy cells made of different materials. And a group of US and UK researchers has made a breakthrough in the development of batteries that use bacteria as their reactive material.
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state and the UK's University of East Anglia have found that it's possible to produce an electrical current by touching proteins on the surface of bacteria to a mineral surface, thus paving the way for the creation of microbial fuel cells.
The scientists said in a press release that they created a synthetic version of the marine bacteria shewanella oneidensis using proteins that are thought to move electrons.
They inserted these proteins into the lipid layers of vesicles, which are small capsules of lipid membranes such as the ones that make up a bacterial membrane. Then they tested how well electrons travelled between an electron donor on the inside and an iron-bearing mineral on the outside.
Researchers have found that they can create an electrical current when proteins on the surface of bacteria (like shewanella oneidensis, shown here) touch a mineral surface. The research shows that it is possible to develop microbial fuel cells. (Source: University of East Anglia/Alice Dohnalkova)
Tom Clark, the lead researcher on the project from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said in the release:
We knew that bacteria can transfer electricity into metals and minerals, and that the interaction depends on special proteins on the surface of the bacteria. But it was not been clear whether these proteins do this directly or indirectly though an unknown mediator in the environment.
The researchers found that it's possible to place bacteria directly on the surface of a metal or mineral and transfer electricity through their cell membranes, therefore tethering bacteria directly to electrodes.
"This is the first time that we have been able to actually look at how the components of a bacterial cell membrane are able to interact with different substances, and understand how differences in metal and mineral interactions can occur on the surface of a cell," Clark said.
Though there is still a ways to go before batteries can be developed using this method, "these bacteria show great potential as microbial fuel cells, where electricity can be generated from the breakdown of domestic or agricultural waste products," he said.
Napelou, I also wonder a bit about the "unintended consequences" that could result. A similar problem exists with those imported fish that got into the Mississippi river a few years back and are now threatening to decimate the existing fih in the great lakes. Somebody starts something with out considering the potential for damages, and with no precautions taken, one small error and the damage is done, and in some cases the damage is irreparable and quite extreme. And now, in the case of the fish, our stupid government officials are dragging their feet about taking any real steps to prevent additional damage.
In the case of power generating bacteria it would certainly be handy to know how to destroy it quickly if ever there was a spill, and we can be certain that there will be a spill if the technology does work as well as anticipated.
Hi, AnandY, the bacteria used in the experiment, or at least one of them, was shewanella oneidensis. I don't know enough about it to know if it is the type that can make its own food or how it feeds...perhaps you do?
I am not familiar with those, William K, but I wouldn't be surprised if that research was a precursor to this. It seems like a lot of these ideas are borrowed or have evolved from similar ones from previous generations. Agreed that if they could really make the organic formula user-friendly, then this could definitely be a winner.
I think that's a valid concern, naperlou, but I'm sure the designers of the battery and the scientists doing the research would hopefully have a way to prevent such a thing from happening! Could make the plot of a good scifi film, though!
Are these batteries anything like the "biocell" batteries that we heard about back in the 1970's? I know that there is some valid means to recover electrical energyu from the biological digestion process but I have no idea how similar the different processes may be, or not. But it does seem that some sort of organicly fueled battery could be useful, unless it uses a custom fuel type that is expensive. But a generation mechanism that could be powered by dead leaves and grass clippings would be a real prize winner.
It would be interesting if you could recharge the cells by simply adding food to the cells.
@Recharge, some of the bacterias can make their own food from sunlight, just like plants. Some of these bacteria can live off unusual "foods" such as iron or sulfur. So it would be interesting to see what kind of bacteria is being used for this experiement.
I also wonder if you could vary teh amount of electricity generated by the kind of food fed to them.
@Gorski, I think it would be too early to predict the effect of food being fed on the amount of electricity generated by them. But I think we can vary the amount of electricity generated by using different minerals and metals.
@Elizabeth, thanks for the post. Its fascinating to know that electrical current can be generated by touching proteins on the surface of bacteria to a mineral surface. What kind of metal or mineral was used for this experiment ?
Truchard will be presented the award at the 2014 Golden Mousetrap Awards ceremony during the co-located events Pacific Design & Manufacturing, MD&M West, WestPack, PLASTEC West, Electronics West, ATX West, and AeroCon.
Robots that walk have come a long way from simple barebones walking machines or pairs of legs without an upper body and head. Much of the research these days focuses on making more humanoid robots. But they are not all created equal.
The IEEE Computer Society has named the top 10 trends for 2014. You can expect the convergence of cloud computing and mobile devices, advances in health care data and devices, as well as privacy issues in social media to make the headlines. And 3D printing came out of nowhere to make a big splash.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.