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Microbial Fuel Cells: An Approach to Green Era

Sources for commercial power generation includes commercial sources as natural gas, coal, lignite, oil, hydro and nuclear power to viable non-conventional energy sources like wind, solar and agriculture and domestic waste. By increasing demand of fossil fuels in the energy supply and use, demand of imported energy may go up in near future.

The India’s Energy (power) Sector is endeavoring to meet the challenge of providing adequate power needed to fuel the growing economy of the country. A Low carbon growth strategy has been adopted in our planning process and highest priority is accorded to development of power based on renewable energy sources.

Microbial fuel cell (MFC) technologies represent an innovation & promising approach for generating electricity from biomass using bacteria. Wastewaters contain energy, in the form of biodegradable organic matter, and we expand energy to remove that matter rather than trying to use it as sustainable energy resource. Microbial fuel cell converts chemical energy in chemical bonds for organic compounds to electrical energy through catalytic reactions of microorganisms under anaerobic conditions.

Microbial Fuel Cells
Microbial Fuel Cells

This technology can not only fulfill the energy demand but can manage another environmental problem also associated with the growing population and industrialization which is management of wastes faced by the world. Pollution

Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) technologies are a completely different approach for wastewater treatment in which energy in the form of organic matter can be captured to produce electricity or hydrogen gas. MFCs are capable of using wide variety of substrates, materials, and system architectures could be used to capture electricity from organic matter with bacteria.

This technology represents an innovative approach for generating electricity from these negative value waste streams. It harnesses the unutilized energy from the wastewater acting as a source of energy generation as well as wastewater treatment. Potter in 1911 first reported generation of electrical current by bacteria but till now little advancement have been achieved in this field even 55 years later (Lewis 1966).

In an MFC, microorganisms degrade (oxidize) organic matter, producing electrons exogeneously (i.e., outside the cell) to a Terminal Electron Acceptor such as a metal oxide like iron oxide. The bacteria that can exogenously transfer electrons are called as exoelectrogens the process is called as electrogenesis and the reactor a microbial fuel cell (MFC). The bacteria in the MFC are self-replicating and self sustaining utilizing the organic matter present in the waste for bioenergy production making MFC a self sustainable system.

MFC can replace the anaerobic digester and the trickling filter system in any wastewater treatment system.

  • Production of a useful product in the form of electricity.
  • No aeration is needed for an air-cathode MFC that uses only passive oxygen transfer at the cathode.
  • Reduced solids production.
  • Greatly reduce the potential for odor generation to a surrounding community.

Dr Simranjeet Singh
Department of Environmental Science
[email protected]

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