Published on April 12th, 2016 | by Glenn Meyers


Bacteria Batteries In The Future?

April 12th, 2016 by  

When it comes to storing electricity from renewable sources, bacteria may have a bright future alongside lithium. This may be great news as demand grows for storing renewable electricity.

lithium batter pack shutterstock_215331841

Scientists report in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters a first-of-its-kind development toward that goal: a rechargeable battery driven by bacteria.

A discovery like this might be refreshing news following a recent Economist headline questioning whether lithium is now an equivalent to precious metals.

“Worldwide sales of lithium salts are only about $1 billion a year. But the element is a vital component of batteries that power everything from cars to smartphones, laptops and power tools. With demand for such high-density energy storage set to surge as vehicles become greener and electricity becomes cleaner, Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, calls lithium “the new gasoline”.”

Storage for renewable electricity

Solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources are gaining ground as nations work to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on petroleum. But sunlight and wind are not constant, so consumers can’t count on them 24-7.

Storing energy can make renewables more reliable, but current technologies such as lithium-ion batteries are limited by safety issues, high costs and other factors.

Sam D. Molenaar and his colleagues from Wageningen University and Wetsus (The Netherlands) wanted to come up with a less expensive, more sustainable solution.

As reported by ACS, the research team combined, for the first time, two separate microbial energy systems. One system used bacteria to form acetate from electricity, while the other one converted the produced acetate back into electricity. The researchers were then able to charge the battery over a 16-hour period and then discharge it over the next 8 hours. This timing was intentional, mimicking the day-night pattern typical for solar energy production.

Importantly, the team repeated this cycle 15 times in as many days. With further optimization, they say the energy density of the microbial battery could be competitive with conventional technologies. Someday it could help us store energy from local renewable sources safely and at a lower cost than current options.

We look forward to future reports on the progress of this exciting storage discovery.

Image: Battery pack closeup via Shutterstock

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About the Author

is a writer, producer, and director. Meyers was editor and site director of Green Building Elements, a contributing writer for CleanTechnica, and is founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.

  • omar

    We look forward to future reports on the progress of this exciting storage discovery of plastic electrodes that Tina talk about it and claimed $50/kwh.

  • JamesWimberley

    “Lithium is the new gasoline”? The Vampire Squid has been smoking something from seafloor vents. One: lithium is a metal and therefore can be recycled indefinitely, like iron, silver, cobalt, aluminium, etc. Two: it is far more abundant than proved reserves suggest. Proving reserves is a legal requirement in securities law, no doubt introduced after some 19th-century scam. It costs money, so mining firms only do it when they see a market.

    • omar

      i think is sayingv that because Li is providng energy for mobility like gazoline.

      • JamesWimberley

        That’s what it does not do. The energy comes from the electricity, the lithium just stores it. Goldman Sachs hires the cleverest young vampire squids from top schools, at very high salaries, topped by even larger bonuses. They are not supposed to get elementary facts wrong.

        • Glenn Meyers

          “new gasoline” reference comes from an Economist writer.

        • omar

          they are in a contest of showing how Li is becoming imprtant, in that waybthey can say that as it takevthe energy from solar(basicaly frim nothing) and that chain of energy the Li is the critical step

      • John Irving

        Then they should have said Li is the new gasoline tank – and electricity is the new gazoline.

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