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Bacteria Living in Stratosphere Could Make for Better Microbial Fuel Cells

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Newcastle University researchers have discovered that Bacillus stratosphericus, a bacterium that usually lives in the stratosphere (as its name suggests) could be used to generate electricity in microbial fuel cells.

It’s not that microbes hadn’t been used before this discovery – it’s the fact that this particular type of bacteria can double the output of a typical microbial fuel cell from 105 watts per cubic meter to 200, enough to power two light bulbs, or a TV.

The bacteria have been brought down from the stratosphere by the normal atmospheric cyclic process and has been isolated by the scientists in the bed of the River Wear in Country Durham, UK. Actually, the team isolated 75 other types of bacteria until they found this one’s properties.

Bacillus altitudinis, a microbe found in the upper layers of the atmosphere, was another candidate for this role.

“What we have done is deliberately manipulate the microbial mix to engineer a biofilm that is more efficient at generating electricity,” says Grant Burgess, Professor of Marine Biotechnology at Newcastle University.

“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,” he also mentioned.

Microbial fuel cells (batteries) convert organic compounds directly into electricity with the help of bacteria, through a process called “bio-catalytic oxidation.”

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