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Soil-based Microbial Fuel Cells

Table of contents
  • Context (IE): A team led by Northwestern University developed a new fuel cell that can harvest energy from microbes living in the soil.
  • Instead of using chemicals to generate electricity, they harvest electricity from bacteria that naturally give out electrons to nearby conductors.
  • These electrons flow from anode to cathode to create an electric circuit.
  • It can last forever as long as there is organic carbon in the soil for the microbes to break down.
  • It can potentially be used in green infrastructure and precision agriculture applications.

Fuel Cells

  • A fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy.
  • It uses hydrogen and oxygen gas as fuel to generate electricity. However, there is no combustion involved.
  • Fuel cells can vary from tiny devices producing only a few watts of electricity, right up to large power plants producing megawatts.

Fuel Cell Mechanism

Fuel Cell working mechanism

  • A fuel cell consists of a cathode, an anode, and an electrolyte.
  • The electrolyte enables the movement of the ions between the electrodes.
  • At the anode, catalyst causes the fuel to undergo oxidation & generates +ve charged ions & electrons.
  • The ions move from the anode to the cathode and the same time, the electrons flow from the anode to the cathode through an external circuit, producing direct current electricity.
  • At the cathode, another catalyst causes ions, electrons, & oxygen to react, forming water as by-product.
  • The reaction rate of this electrochemical reaction is quite low.
  • Catalysts such as platinum or palladium or gold are used to speed up the reaction.
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