Dirt Powered Fuel Cells  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

Inhabitat (my favourite place for finding cool new images) has a post on dirt powered fuel cells (more commonly called microbial fuel cells) and efforts to combine these with LED lighting in Africa.

Take a little bit of soil, add some microbes, a little bit of human ingenuity and you’ll find yourself with the most unlikely source of power ever - dirt! Building off of this simple concept, a team from Harvard led by Hugo Van Vuuren have just been named amongst the winners of the World Bank’s Lighting Africa 2008 Development Competition. Their idea is to develop a series of dirt based fuel cells that are capable of lighting high efficiency LED lamps and their goal is to light up Africa.

Van Vuuren, alongside fellow Africans Sephen Lwendo, David Sengeh, together with Alexander Fabry, Zoë Sachs-Arellano and Aviva Presser have founded Lebônê. Their organization is dedicated to bringing low cost energy solutions to Africa. One of the most often talked about issues in Africa is the lack of cheap and non-toxic light sources. A large number of people rely on kerosene lamps or candles, which are extremely unsuitable for use inside the small and not very well ventilated houses. Lebônê aims to solve this crisis.

Their solution is to create dirt based microbial fuel cells to power electricity conducting polymers, or PLEDs. Microbial fuel cells (originally developed by Peter Girguis) work by tapping the energy that microbes generate as they break down organic matter. The idea is that you can dig a hole in the ground, then fill it with animal and plant waste. You take an anode and a cathode, hook it up to a circuit board and voila, enough electricity to charge up a battery! Put all of this into a solid container and you have a mobile, soil-based generator.

Inhabitat also has a post on the world's first illuminating glass.
Eco-friendly lightbulbs are an energy efficient step in the right direction, but it could be that the bulb’s days are numbered. First we had light-emitting wallpaper, and now Saazs’ light-emitting glass plates. Using planilum technology, these plates are the world’s first active light-emitting glass. Incorporated into shelves and tables, the technology provides beautiful, understated lighting for homes and offices.

One more story from Inhabitat on the Buckminster Fuller Challenge and winner John Todd.
The Buckminster Fuller Challenge honors visionary thinking that seeks to “solve humanity’s most pressing problems in the shortest possible time while enhancing the Earth’s ecological integrity.” Starting this year, a $100,000 prize will be awarded in support of development and implementation of solutions that have the potential to transform the world. Setting a high precedent for the future, Dr. John Todd has won the First Annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge for his proposal Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia, which lays out a strategy for transforming one and a half million acres of strip-mined lands in Appalachia into a harmonious self-sustaining community.

We’ve written about Dr. John Todd before here. Todd is perhaps best known for his design of Eco Machines (formally called ‘Living Machines’) - closed loop, self-sustaining systems of waste water filtration based on real world ecological models. The jury of the Buckminster Fuller competition stated that “Dr. John Todd’s comprehensive design strategy to bring about a carbon neutral world best embodies the bold, visionary approach to large-scale societal transformation pioneered by Buckminster Fuller.” The Buckminster Fuller Challenge was established to promote design science solutions that follow the idea that small amounts of energy and resources provide the maximum amount of results, ideals that Dr. Todd’s proposal upholds.


Just to be a pedant, you don't have to add any microbes to the soil... there will generally be plenty.

A good source of "fuel" might be manure or other waste.

The beauty of this kind of device (if made more practicable) is that it can run on a mixture of "dirty" "fuels"... unlike existing fuel cells which generally require specific pure substrates.

You could conceive of a similar idea for running street lighting from the sewer lines... and partially treating the waste to boot!

Hmm - thats an inteersting idea - street lights as a type of tree, drawing "nutrients" from the "soil"...

MFC_Guy2010   says 10:30 PM

FYI: Soil-based MFCs like this are already available for educational and personal use from Keegotech. Check 'em out -> www.keegotech.com

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