Development of Biologically Modified Anodes for Energy Harvesting Using Microbial Fuel Cells

Report No. ARL-RP-0395
Authors: James J. Sumner, Rahul Ganguli, and Brad Chmelka
Date/Pages: September 2012; 12 pages
Abstract: Biological fuel cells hold promise as an alternative energy source to batteries for unattended ground sensor applications due to the fact that they can be extremely long lived. This lifetime can be extended over batteries by scavenging fuel from the deployed environment. Microbial fuel cells (MFC) are one class of such sources that produce usable energy from small organic compounds (i.e. sugars, alcohols, organic acids, and biopolymers) which can be easily containerized or scavenged from the environment. The use of microorganisms as the anodic catalysts is what makes these systems unique from other biofuel cell designs. One of the main drawbacks of engineering a sensor system powered by an MFC is that power densities and current flux are extremely low in currently reported systems. The power density is limited by the mass transfer of the fuel source to the catalyst, the metabolism of the microbial catalysts and the electron transfer from the organism to the anode. This presentation will focus on the development of a new style of microbially-modified anodes which will increase power density to a level where a practical power source can be engineered. This is being achieved by developing a three dimensional matrix as an artificial, conductive biofilm. These artificial biofilms will allow the capture of a consortium of microbes designed for efficient metabolism of the available fuel source. Also it will keep the microbes close to the electrode allowing ready access by fuel and providing a low resistance passage of the liberated electrons from fuel oxidation.
Distribution: Approved for public release
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Last Update / Reviewed: September 1, 2012