Researchers from the Guangdong Institute of Eco-environmental and Soil Sciences in China have found a way to generate electricity from waste, by modifying traditional power-generating microbial fuel cells to function with much cheaper and more sustainable natural materials.
Using loofahs, natural products extracted from the fruit of loofah plants, and carbon nanoparticles enriched with nitrogen, the team was able to achieve what many have been trying to- provide a method that solves both pressing problems of our society, the energy generation and over-production of waste.
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are well known for their ability to generate power using bacteria, which convert waste into electricity. These cells have huge potential at first glance, but they are also associated with quite a number of problems, which have prevented them from being the new best and revolutionary energy generating technology. To start with, they are expensive and quite difficult to make, but even if these limitations are overcome, MFCs usually have very small pores in their electrodes, preventing waste eating bacteria from spreading freely.
The team led by Shungui Zhou however, was determined to find a way to bring down the cost and make this technology efficient. This is why they decided to turn to nature and explore the loofah plant product. Those who know a bit about loofahs would associate them with bathroom products that leave us with amazingly smooth and perfectly exfoliated skin. Loofahs are known for their large pores, which allow perfect skin treatment, and are inexpensive and readily available.
These properties attracted the scientists. They decided to place bacteria inside loofahs, which were previously filled with nitrogen-rich carbon nanoparticles. The results published in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology, revealed that the new MFCs performed much better than the traditional ones, opening up numerous possibilities for further research in producing cheap anodes from sustainable materials, while utilizing the unwanted waste.
Image (c) Environmental Science and Technology