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thumbnail Bugs from space offer new source of power

Bacteria normally found 30km above the earth have been identified as highly efficient generators of electricity.

Bacillus stratosphericus – a microbe commonly found in high concentrations in the stratosphere – is a key component of a new ‘super’ biofilm that has been engineered by a team from Newcastle University.

Isolating 75 different species of bacteria from the Wear Estuary, Country Durham, the team tested the power-generation of each one using a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC).

By selecting the best species of bacteria, a kind of microbial "pick and mix", they were able to create an artificial biofilm, doubling the electrical output of the MFC from 105 milliWatts per cubic metre to 200 milliWatts per cubic metre.

While still relatively low, this would be enough power to run an electric light and could provide a much needed power source in parts of the world without electricity.

Among the ‘super’ bugs was B. Stratosphericus, a microbe normally found in the atmosphere but brought down to earth as a result of atmospheric cycling processes and isolated by the team from the bed of the River Wear.

Publishing their findings today in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, Professor Grant Burgess, from the School of Marine Science and Technology and Professor Keith Scott, based in the School of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials, said the research demonstrated the “potential power of the technique.”

“What we have done is deliberately manipulate the microbial mix to engineer a biofilm that is more efficient at generating electricity,” explains Professor Burgess.

“This is the first time individual microbes have been studied and selected in this way.  Finding B.Stratosphericus was quite a surprise but what it demonstrates is the potential of this technique for the future – there are billions of microbes out there with the potential to generate power.”

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the study identified a number of electricity-generating bacteria.

Click here to read the press release in full.

 

published on: 21st March 2012