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Students Harnessing Energy by Using Bacteria That Live in Soil

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Until now, researchers and scientists have discovered how to harness solar energy, biofuel, hydropower and wind power but a new renewable energy source could be right under our feet. A group of Harvard students use small currents created by bacteria living in soil to collect and harness that energy in a microbial fuel cell (MFC).

The recent microbial-fueled battery can last for up to a year, being able to generate enough electricity to power a small LED lamp.

MFCs have been successfully tested by these students  in villages in Namibia, Africa, using soil and manure to fuel them. According to the team, bacteria release energy when they metabolize dead leaves, compost and other organic waste. When an electrical conductor or an electrode is added, the electrons attach to it, creating a chemical reaction resulting in a small charge of electricity.

One hundred years ago, M. C. Potter, a professor of botany at the University of Durham has discovered the process of extracting energy from waste material, so this is not a new concept. The professor was able to produce electricity from E. coli

“The science is proven and tested, and there are many folks working to further MFCs. We are focused on taking them to the developing world.” said Hugo Van Vuuren, one of the students involved in the project.

In Africa about 500 million people live without electricity, so the goal is to bring the MFC technology to their developing states. There is the possibility of harvesting energy from waste and soil, and produce power in areas where the grid is non-existent or scarce.

In the future, the students hope their invention will also be available in the U.S. Besides the fact that this process of extracting energy from dirt is clean, it will also reduce air pollution and save money.

[Source: CS Monitor]

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