Clean Power Geobacter microbes could purify wastewater while generating electricity.

Published on August 3rd, 2009 | by Tina Casey


Researchers Coax Electricity from Geobacter Super-Microbes

August 3rd, 2009 by  

Geobacter microbes could purify wastewater while generating electricity.The workhorse of the microbe world could turn out to be Geobacter, a hairy looking organism that is actually capable of generating an electric current from mud or wastewater.  Professor Derek Lovley and a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have announced that they successfully evolved a strain of Geobacter into a superbug that is eight times more powerful than other strains.  The breakthrough could lead to the development of a microbial fuel cell system scaled to individual homes, capable of producing electricity from the occupants’ household wastewater.  Geobacter-powered microbial fuel cells for vehicles, portable electronics, and even medical implants are among many other potential applications.


A Brief History of Geobacter

Geobacter is a mud-loving microbe that Lovley and his colleagues first discovered over twenty years ago in the Potomac River.  Initially the team developed Geobacter as a means of bioremediating contaminated soil. The organism “breathes” iron and other metals, which enables it to render petroleum-based contaminants into carbon dioxide.  It can even remediate radioactive metals in groundwater.  In 2002 Lovley and his team discovered that Geobacter could generate electricity from organic matter in sediment and wastewater.  By 2005 they had identified the mechanism: the “pili,” hairlike protruberances that festoon Geobacter like nanowires.  They create a thin biofilm that conducts electrons from the organism to iron in the mud or wastewater.  Other bacteria colonies also anchor themselves to a food source by attaching a biofilm to it, but Geobacter is especially skillful at electron transmission.  Possibly in combination with other bio-based treatment systems, Geobacter could help transform sewage treatment plants from energy-sucking pieces of infrastructure into electricity generators that produce reusable water.

Geobacter and Microbial Fuel Cells

Dr. Lovley and his team developed a more powerful strain of Geobacter by adding a small electric current to the growing medium, or substrate.  The extra current forced Geobacter to work harder to shed its electrons.  In a few months a new, more powerful strain developed that appears to be suitable for application to microbial fuel cells using a variety of wastes or renewable substrates.  In a conventional microbial fuel cell, glucose or acetate provide the juice.  As a more powerful microbe, Geobacter could prove just as effective on less than ideal substrates such as wastewater or even beer waste.

Image: elisfanclub on 
Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.”
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.


Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

Back to Top ↑
  • Advertisements

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Cool Cleantech Events

    Low Voltage Electrification Event, April 25-27. Detroit, Michigan (US)
    Delve deep into the benefits and challenges associated with EV power supply.

    Offshore Wind Market Development USA, May 11-12, Boston, Massachusetts (US)
    Network and establish your business in one of North America’s largest energy industries.

    Energy Storage USA, June 15-16, San Diego, California (US)
    Only event in the United States focused exclusively on the commercialization of storage.

    More details are on: Cleantech Events.

  • Advertisement

  • CleanTechnica Electric Car Report

    Electric Cars Early Adopters First Followers
  • Tesla Model 3 Review by EVANNEX

    Tesla Model 3 Review from EVANNEX
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Video

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Pictures

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model X Review #1 (Video)

    Tesla Model X Review from new owners Zach Shahan
  • Tesla Model X Review #2 (Pictures)

    Tesla Model X Review from Kyle Field
  • Tesla Model S Long-Term Review

    Tesla Model S Long Term Review from Kyle Field
  • Nissan LEAF Long-Term Review

    Nissan LEAF Long Term Review from Cynthia Shahan
  • Interview with Michael Liebreich

    Interview with Michael Liebreich
  • Interview with Akon (Teslas & Solar)

    Interview with Akon Tesla Model S Tesla Model X Solar Power Africa
  • Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany

    Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany
  • Interview with Gro Brundtland

    Gro Brundtland
  • Interview with President of Iceland

    President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
  • Interview with Nick Sampson

    Faraday Future VP Nick Sampson
  • Interview with Dipal Barua

    Dipal Barua 1st ZFEP WInner
  • Interview with Jonathon Porritt

    Jonathon Porritt
  • Interview with Clint Wilder

    Interview with Clint Wilder
  • Interviews with Solar Impulse Pilots

    Bertrand Piccard Andre Borschberg
  • Check out more CleanTechnica Videos.

  • Join The Solar Revolution!

    Edison-solar-energy solar-energy-spill-nice-day
  • Cost of Solar Panels

  • Search the IM Network