These bacteria are able to generate electricity

Although most living things need oxygen to survive, some microorganisms thrive in an oxygen-free environment. This is thanks to an impressive property: they are able to “breathe” molecules other than oxygen. Some soil microorganisms can use nitrates, while other microbes on the seafloor that live near volcanic chimneys use sulfur to survive and grow. However, all of these organisms must be close to their food source. But there is one exception to this rule: Reduces geological sulfatesThese innovative bacteria can survive in oxygen-poor environments like sediments. How do they do it? They use mineral particles—such as iron—in the sediment as a kind of “snorkel” to access oxygen that isn’t available in their immediate vicinity. This tube doesn’t deliver oxygen directly to the bacteria, but it does allow them to create an electrical connection with the oxygen. In a laboratory setting Reduces geological sulfates Use any conductive material for this, such as graphite – the stuff pencils are made of.

Alternative to batteries

Because these bacteria are able to generate an electric current between themselves and the oxygen in their environment, scientists have come up with the idea of ​​using this microorganism as a source of energy or a “microbial fuel cell.” This fuel cell consists of a chamber where: Reduces geosulfates It is electrically connected to a second chamber containing oxygen. Unfortunately, these fuel cells are not yet fully ready to provide high electrical power, or at least not for longer periods. For example, you can’t charge a microbial fuel cell, because when it runs out of food you can Reduces geological sulfates It no longer generates electricity.

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So, more research and development is needed before we can rely on a microelectric battery to power our homes or cars. But compared to conventional batteries, microbial fuel cells make it possible to use cheap and fully renewable vehicles, without toxic elements. Therefore, it is a promising alternative to batteries when less power is needed.

We hope that the wastewater from our sewers will also fit into the bacteria’s diet. This would be a promising application. The most widely used wastewater treatment technology currently uses microorganisms in a process called “activated sludge.” During this treatment, the microbes need a lot of oxygen, so it takes a lot of energy to aerate the sludge adequately. Reduces geological sulfates So it could potentially be a good alternative in this process, because with a breathing tube it has easier access to oxygen and it could also generate electricity while cleaning our wastewater. For example, going to the toilet could potentially power our homes in the future…

Megan Vasquez

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