MIT Advances in the Production of Electricity from Bacteria

A new technique found by MIT engineers could facilitate and extend the production of electricity from bacteria. Will this be the new source of renewable energy that will power from our phones to our homes?

“The renewable energies of the future could be anywhere, even in your own intestine. We refer to the innovative process of generating electricity from bacteria.”

There are many types of bacteria capable of producing electricity, however our devices still do not feed on this energy source, why? Basically it is very expensive and difficult to develop them in a laboratory, so taking them to our devices is a slow process. Although this could be about to change.

Scientists are currently measuring extracellular electron transfer (EET) to identify those bacteria that can generate energy. However, MIT engineers have managed to employ a process called dielectrophoresis, normally used to differentiate different types of cells, to distinguish bacteria for their ability to produce electricity.

They calculated the polarizability of the bacteria by noting the voltage required to manipulate it and the size of the cell, carrying out the experiment on bacterial strains in a microfluidic channel. They applied one volt per second, from 0 to 80 volts.

They concluded that bacteria with greater polarizability were more active when producing electricity. “We have enough evidence to see that there is a strong correlation between polarizability and electrochemical activity,” explained Qianru Wang of MIT’s mechanical engineering department.

The next step will be to test the new technique with bacteria already considered powerful to produce energy. If the rule of polarizability is met, we could be faced with a technique that would revolutionize the field of energy production from bacteria.