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The electric power of bacteria

Daniel BuenoA combination of bacteria, sunlight, and wastewater may lead to a self-sustained hydrogen gas production system. Hydrogen is considered a resource of the future for producing electric energy in stationary generators or vehicles. A group of researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Virginia Tech has developed a device capable of generating this fuel while producing only water vapor as a residue. It consists of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that generates electricity by harnessing the power of the bacteria found in wastewater. Inside the MFC, the bacteria degrade the organic matter in the wastewater and generate electricity by transferring electrons across their cell membranes; this energy is then delivered to a photoelectric solar panel so that the water molecules can be split into hydrogen and oxygen, in the process known as electrolysis. The advantage of the new system is that it does not consume energy from other sources to produce hydrogen and also addresses the need for wastewater treatment. Written by the team of Prof. Yat Li, of UCSC, the paper was published in the journal ACS Nano in October 2013.