Sunday, April 10, 2011

Electric Microbes For Alternative Energy Use


When we think about microbes, we think of tiny organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye. Microbes can vary from being deadly to life saving. Microbes are diverse and unique, and we continue to learn more about them everyday. Electric microbes are organisms being looked into as an alternative energy source. These interesting tiny microbes are known as Geobacter. Alternative energy researchers are excited by this discovery. The conductive ability of these tiny particles were discovered by researchers at the University of Massachusetts, and named by Time Magazine as one of the best 50 inventions of 2009.


What are Electric Microbes?

Electric Microbes are colonies of bacteria, that individually communicate and transport energy between one another by sending electrical impulses through cilia, which are tiny hairs growing on the surface of bacteria. The survival of the colony is supported by the electrical connection between the microbes. Just like electrical appliances these microbes function as long as their is an electrical connection traveling through the nanowires. The microbes can share energy simply through touch. In their natural sediment environment the cilia of Geobacter helps it to produce electric current from mud and waste water.


How Electric Microbes are Contributing to Alternative Energy Research?

When colonies of electric microbes exists in envirionments that do not have enough oxygen, they digest food differently. Rather than breaking down sugars to form carbon dioxide and water, the microbes produce carbon dioxide, protons, and electrons. The electrons move through the colony, producing electric current. The current produced is not as strong as the current that runs through household wiring but is significant enough to allow the microbes to survive. Alternative energy researchers are focusing on the capability of electric microbes to alter organic material into electricity. Researchers are creating fuel cells that mock the conversion process these microbes use. But the electricity that is produced by the microbes are transported into an alternative power source rather than for the essential life functions of Geobacter. Microbial fuel cells are unique and versatile, compared to other types of fuel cells. Conventional fuel cells only function using one type of fuel, hydrogen, compared to fuel cells generated using electric microbes, they have the ability to use a wider variety of fuel sources, as long as they are organic and water-based.


Use of Electric Mcirobes Happening Now

These electric microbes are getting more and more attention as new fuel cell ideas are tested. The United Nations plans to test microbial fuel cells in space. As a result of this research, a new power source on the space station would be created by transforming human waste into electrical power. Microbial fuel cells are already being used to amplify some other compelling undertakings, ranging from a self feeding robot to basic fuel cells to help provide lighting in developing countries. These microbes are attractive possibilities for energy sources because they're cheap and easy to maintain. As technology and the understanding of electric microbes advance, more interesting ideas will be developed.



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