• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Microbial Fuel Cells

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that bacteria can clean waste water and generate electricity for a fuel cell - at the same time.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: organic winegrowers go after genetically engineered crops at the ballot box. First, this note on emerging science from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Many treatment plants use bacteria to clean wastewater. Now, scientists at Penn State have shown that this waste-eating bacteria can be used to generate electricity in fuel cells, while cleaning the water at the same time. The process works like this: As bacteria consume their food – in this case, the organic matter in wastewater – they shed electrons. These electrons are then captured by a wire in the fuel cell. The wire transfers these electrons to a chamber of oxygen. This flow of electrons creates electricity.

Until now, scientists have used simple sugars, such as glucose, to power the bacteria in these so-called microbial fuel cells. Researchers are hoping to refine the wastewater technology so that larger amounts of electricity are produced. Eventually, they say, providing power on site could help lower the cost of operating wastewater plants. Developing countries could benefit from this technology by reducing costs of cleaning contaminated water, thereby slowing down the spread of disease. That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and Aveda - an Earth-conscious beauty company committed to preserving natural resources and finding more sustainable ways of doing business, information available at Aveda.com; the Noyce Foundation, dedicated to improving math and science instruction from kindergarten through grade 12; the Annenberg Foundation; and the Kellogg Foundation, helping people help themselves by investing in individuals, their families and their communities. On the web at wkkf.org. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

[MUSIC: Star Wars: Figrin d'An and the Modal Nodes "Cantina Band #2" (RCA - 1997)]



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth