A group of 17 students from Tianjin University and two high school students have developed a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) that can generate up to 80 hours of electricity after the addition of a spoonful of sugar.
The team of Chinese students adopted multi-cellular microbial consortia in their MFC to create a highly-efficient and stable electrical output, which won them a gold medal and the award for the best energy project at the 2015 International Genetically Engineered Machine (IGEM) Competition in September.
The research of single-strain MFC has been on it’s way for many years, but because of limited metabolic capacity and the strict requirement for cultivation, it has been difficult for a single species of electricigens to create highly-efficient electricity production.
Ling Wei, the leader of this team, a pharmaceutical engineering student, said that the most innovative part of their research was to genetically modify bacterial strains from three species, namely E. coli, Shewanella and B. subtilis,
into an Microbial Fuel Cell system. Ling also stated: “It is innovative because no one before has ever tried to make a microbial fuel cell (MFC) out of three species of microbes. In this way, we can replenish two elements that the electricigens need for electricity production by mixing different microbes, and it (our MFC) can reach a good level to generate electricity,”
In one discussion Ling told that, compared to existing wind, water and solar power methods, their co-cultured system is more stable regardless of weather conditions or location, bringing the possibilities of optimizing the method for future larger-scale power production.
Ling Wei also told that “new energies such as solar and wind power have a low conversion rate, and perhaps because we are not capable enough to make use of them, the rate can only reach 20 percent. In regard to our MFC, it can produce electricity in a highly-efficient way, and can convert inorganic substances like salt, together with simple glucose, into electricity efficiently.” After adding sugar or grass into the system the Microbial Fuel Cell that they are working on can now reach an output of 520 millivolts (mV) for more than 80 hours.
A biomechanical engineer called Liu Yue, which was a team adviser, said that the group has lofty expectations for their highly-efficient battery. Mr. Liu stated: “We hope to make the Microbial Fuel Cell much smaller, with longer electrical output and a larger quantity of electricity, so that it can be one of the new energies of the future, just like the lithium batteries we normally use in our daily life.”
Annually, a world’s top synthetic biology competition (called The IGEM) is held, and it is gathering the industry’s best students, educators and professionals to show their innovative new biologically-engineered systems that can tackle real world problems that grow bigger by the year.