Biofuel manufacturing could lead to the development of clean and environmentally friendly electricity

September 21, 2012 |

In the UK, researchers from the University of Surrey have announced a breakthrough in microbial fuel cell technology that could lead to the development of self-powered devices. It has also been revealed this new discovery can de-pollute waste water and be used to survey weather in extreme environments. The team presented their findings at the Society for General Microbiology’s Autumn Conference, and explained how Distillers Dried Grain with Solubles (DDGS) can power microbial fuel cells to generate cheap and clean electricity. DDGS is a waste product of biofuel manufacture and is one of the UK’s most abundant waste materials. Commonly used as a cheap animal feed, researchers have discovered that adding the biofuel waste with bacteria inoculated sludge from waste water present in their microbial fuel cell, an electron flow can be produced.

How does this work?

The bacteria reacts with the DDGS, causing it to grow. However, the fuel cell separates from the oxygen supply, which causes it to send out electrons around a circuit that results in the production of oxygen. By making use of these electrons, researchers believe electricity can be produced through waste, making microbial fuel cells one of the most attractive sources for renewable energy. Researcher, Lisa Buddrus commented: “DDGS is potentially one of the most abundant waste products in the UK. As the biofuel industry expands the supply of DDGS will become more abundant. The next step for us is to identify the electrogenic bacterial species that grow on DDGS. Furthermore, by looking at genetics across this microbial community, we will be able to better understand the metabolic processes and essential genes involved in electron liberation and transfer.”

Environmental Impact

Furthermore to sourcing a new technology to help the production of electricity, it has also been announced that DDGS are environmentally friendly – the waste product is less reactive with oxygen making it less polluting. The electricity produced is cheap, efficient and most importantly clean. However, it could take several years before we see this technology being used in mainstream energy systems.

Leading the group of researchers is Professor Mike Bushell, who said: “We’ve found something really useful from a waste product without affecting its value as animal feed and at the same time improving its environmental status. This is something we place great importance on and within our group we have a team solely dedicated to reducing polluting potential. “Self-powered sensors in remote places such as deserts or oceans can be used to provide important data for monitoring weather or pollution. Other applications in focus for microbial fuel cells include treating waste water to produce green electricity and clean up the water at the same time.” Biofuel manufacturing could lead to the development of clean and environmentally friendly electricity has been written by RPM Fuels and Tanks.

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