Harvard scientists have found a solution that could light up homes of some 500 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa. They have created microbial fuel cell (MFC) batteries that derive power from naturally occurring bacteria in soil.
These eco-friendly batteries come in the form of a layer of sand that acts as an ion barrier, mud with manure, salt water, which acts as an electrolyte, a five-pound bucket that carries a graphite-cloth anode and chicken wire cathode. The energy that is released out of the bucket could power a few LED lights and even small electronics.
Lebone is the company created by the Harvard team. They buried 100 units in dirt that will provide energy for several months to Namibian families who lack access to electric energy. When watered to keep the microbes munching, the buried cells can produce power for months.
“Rural Africans are used to getting resources out of the ground,” says team member Aviva Presser Aiden, a doctoral student in applied math and genomics at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “We want to tap that familiarity.” This system is ideal for developing nations or poor countries because the MFC batteries are eco-friendly, easily made and cheap to produce.