The Office of Naval Research (ONR) will present a microbial fuel cell on April 22 at the Pentagon. The technology developed by them can harvest energy from the oceans by converting decomposed marine organisms into electricity. The microbial fuel cell is meant to use naturally occurring fuels and oxidants in the sea to power ships, replacing batteries and fossil fuels.

“Microbial fuel cell research is a great example of naval needs propelling advanced technology that also has potential benefit to the public” said Chief of Naval Research, Rear Adm. Nevin Carr. “The Secretary of the Navy issued five energy goals to the Department of the Navy last October at ONR’s Naval Energy Forum and this fuel cell research will help provide part of the solution.”

“Think of it as a battery that runs on mud,” ONR Program Manager Dr. Linda Chrisey said. “They are sustainable, environmentally friendly and don’t involve hazardous reactants like a regular battery might because they use the natural carbon in the marine environment. For example, we are working on a 4-foot long autonomous underwater vehicle that will settle on the seafloor and recharge its batteries using this fuel cell approach. We are already able to power many types of sensors using microbial fuel cells.”

The microbial fuel cell that ONR has invented is based on a microbe called “Geobacter”, discovered by Dr. Derek Lovley of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which uses its hair-like extensions (pili) to generate electricity from mud and wastewater. “Essentially, they could go on for years without any kind of battery replacement,” says Linda Chrisey, the program manager from ONR.

Researchers have proven that a strain of Geobacter they developed is eight times more efficient than other strains at producing power.

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