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Using Microbes To Increase The Conduction And Production Of Electricity

By modifying the chemistry of an electrode surface to support the connection of microbial communities to the electrode, it’s possible to produce more electricity, more rapidly, than it is with unmodified electrodes, new research from the National University of Ireland-Galway has found.

This shows wiring microbes to conduct and produce electricity faster. Image Credit: Amit Kumara

This shows wiring microbes to conduct and produce electricity faster.
Image Credit: Amit Kumara

The press release has more:

“Electron exchange” is at the heart of all redox reactions occurring in the natural world, as well as in bioengineered systems: so called ‘biolectrochemical systems’. Practical applications of these systems include current generation, wastewater treatment, and biochemical and biofuel production. The microbial-electrode interface is a sum of complex physical-chemical and biological interactions permitting microbes to exchange electrons with solid electrodes to produce bioelectrochemical systems. In these systems the microbes compete and self-select electrode materials for electron exchange capabilities.

However, to date this selection is not well understood, yet electricity or chemicals can (still) be produced using various substrates, including wastewater or waste gases, depending upon operational settings. The Biomolecular Electronics Research Laboratory has been working on probing conditions for selection of electrodes by microbes for several years, and we have recently adopted an approach to tailor the chemistry of electrode surfaces which will help us better understand the selection mechanism.

This work is what led to the new findings — surfaces that are modified with nitrogen-containing amines produce a higher and more-rapid production of electrical current when placed in microbial cultures, as compared to those without such a modification.

The researchers are now planning to continue their work by further investigating the selection mechanism — via experimentation with a wide variety of different surface modifications and microbial cultures.

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Written By

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.


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