Saturday, April 11, 2009

Goan Natalie comes up with bacterial battery power

With the world looking forward to more greener energy sources, young Goan student Natalie D'silva, a student of Dhempe College of Arts and Science Miramar has spent months in research to come up with a discovery of a means of power generation which promises to help clean up cities.

imageWorking under the guidance of Ms Arina Frank, Lecturer department of Biotechnology and sponsored by the Dempo charities trust, the invention assumes significance in view of the fact that bacteria neither produces any toxic material nor pollutes the environment.

The electricity we normally get is by the burning of fossil fuels. However with the earth's reservoir of fossils depleting continuously, and with rise of pollution being another threat, there is an imperative need for clean energy sources to be found. Currently the world is doing extensive research for an alternative means of generating electricity and Natalie's research is therefore a welcome step in this direction.

The basic principle under which Natalie's research revolves is analogous to that of conventional fuel cells which is an electrochemical energy conversion device that produces from an external supply of fuel.

The research is based on harvesting electricity with the help of microbes which are generally bacteria, which feed on biomass for their respiration. This is referred to as Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) also known as bacterial battery.

The MFC converts chemical energy to electrical energy by the catalytic reaction of microorganisms. A typical microbial fuel cell consists of anode and cathode compartments separated by a cation-specific membrane. In the cathode compartment, substrate is oxidised by microorganisms generating electrons and protons.

Electrons are transferred to the cathode compartment through an external circuit and the protons are transferred to the cathode compartment through the membrane. Electrons and protons are consumed in the cathode compartment combining with oxygen to form water.

Natalie and Ms Arina Frank explored  a marine sponge from the Betul waters and were able to screen about 40 different bacteria from it. Among these bacteria they identified one that could generate a voltage of about 0.47 volts which was higher than reported in scientific papers so far.

Although the project is in its initial stages it seeks to source a cheaper and portable rechargeable source of energy that could be used to power gadgets such as calculators or mobile phones.

As MFCs can use any organic material sources, they can well be installed in water treatment plants to produce electricity from waste and in addition consume the waste material. MFCs also are very clean, efficient and the emissions are below regulations.

The electricity generated by these cells can be stored in rechargeable batteries or capacitors and be utilised whenever needed and is therefore a very potent energy source. MFCs can also be used for  a power source of pacemakers in the body.It would utilise glucose from the blood or other substrates in the body and generate electricity to supply to these devices.

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