Nanotech Coatings Improve Production of Electricity from Sewage  

Posted by Big Gav in

Science Daily has an update on the world of microbial fuel cell research - Nanotech Coatings Produce 20 Times More Electricity from Sewage.

Engineers at Oregon State University have made a significant advance toward producing electricity from sewage, by the use of new coatings on the anodes of microbial electrochemical cells that increased the electricity production about 20 times.

The findings, just published online in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, a professional journal, bring the researchers one step closer to technology that could clean biowaste at the same time it produces useful levels of electricity -- a promising new innovation in wastewater treatment and renewable energy.

Engineers found that by coating graphite anodes with a nanoparticle layer of gold, the production of electricity increased 20 times. Coatings with palladium produced an increase, but not nearly as much. And the researchers believe nanoparticle coatings of iron -- which would be a lot cheaper than gold -- could produce electricity increases similar to that of gold, for at least some types of bacteria.

"This is an important step toward our goal," said Frank Chaplen, an associate professor of biological and ecological engineering. "We still need some improvements in design of the cathode chamber, and a better understanding of the interaction between different microbial species. But the new approach is clearly producing more electricity."

In this technology, bacteria from biowaste such as sewage are placed in an anode chamber, where they form a biofilm, consume nutrients and grow, in the process releasing electrons. In this context, the sewage is literally the fuel for electricity production.

In related technology, a similar approach may be able to produce hydrogen gas instead of electricity, with the potential to be used in hydrogen fuel cells that may power the automobiles of the future. In either case, the treatment of wastewater could be changed from an energy-consuming technology into one that produces usable energy.

7 comments

Hooray for bacteria, the original nanomachine.

Similar (or related) technology has already used to power in situ sensors... so I guess it depends on your definition of "usable".

This seems to be a waste of time, money and energy. We need to look at ways to produce cheap liquid fuels, not electricity. While electric production is important, our far more pressing problem is liquid fuels.

Errr - you seem to totally misunderstand the problem.

Liquid fuels are going to go into long term decline. The solution is to electrify the transport system (electric vehicles, more rail transport).

Thus any sustainable source of electricity is a solution to the problem of liquid fuels.

Liquid fuels are going to go into long term decline. The solution is to electrify the transport system (electric vehicles, more rail transport).

We have plenty of ways to generate electricity but need a way to help us get through the liquid fuels transition problem. Unless you think that most cars will disappear over the next 10 years we will need something to keep them running.

I just explained what the way to get through the problem is - electrify transport.

We'll still have plenty of liquid fuel in 10 years time - we don't need to turn over the entire car fleet in that time.

Liquid fuels are going to go into long term decline. The solution is to electrify the transport system (electric vehicles, more rail transport).

We already know how to make cheap electricity so the electrification efforts do not need any help from sewage. But what you do not seem to understand is that we have to go through a transition phase that will allow us to reduce our dependence on conventional liquid fuels. That means figuring out a way to use cheap biodiesel, alcohol, ammonia or natural gas in our gasoline burning engines for several decades until we can come up with acceptable alternatives. Wasting resources as we are doing now is not a good idea.

If this turns out to not be a cost effective way to generate electricity so what - we need to do the research to find out.

Sewage is one thing we'll always have plenty of...

We already have acceptable electric transport options - we can start making the transition now.

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