Navy's Microbial Fuel Cell Uses Bugs to Create Power

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"Think of it as a battery that runs on mud"

Bacteria to create energy for U.S. Navy The U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) is to this week highlight its microbial fuel cell, a device that has the potential to revolutionize naval energy use by converting decomposed marine organisms into electricity.

The fuel cells convert naturally occurring fuels and oxidants in the marine environment into electricity, offering a clean, efficient and reliable alternative to batteries and other environmentally harmful fuels.

And with its powerful return of clean energy, the fuel cell may reduce carbon emissions in the environment and change the way we power to our lives.

"Microbial fuel cell research is a great example of naval needs propelling advanced technology that also has potential benefit to the public" said Chief of Naval Research, Rear Admiral Nevin Carr. "The Secretary of the Navy issued five energy goals to the Department of the Navy last October and this fuel cell research will help provide part of the solution."

"Think of it as a battery that runs on mud," ONR program manager Dr Linda Chrisey said. "They are sustainable, environmentally friendly and don't involve hazardous reactants like a regular battery might because they use the natural carbon in the marine environment. . ."

Dr. Leonard Tender, research chemist in the Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), has been a central figure in the development of the fuel cell. Working with scientists from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Tender and his team started to investigate electricity-generating microorganisms. The most promising, called Geobacter, was discovered in the Potomac River immediately downstream of NRL.

The discovery of the tiny Geobacter microbe by Dr. Derek Lovley of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst holds the key to understanding microbial energy conversion. Geobacter uses its hair-like extensions, or pili, to generate electricity from mud and wastewater. Researchers have developed a strain of Geobacter that is eight times more efficient than other strains at producing power.

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