How ‘Pee Bacteria’ Could Change Electricity Production

by James DiGeorgia | 02/19/2021 2:22 PM
How ‘Pee Bacteria’ Could Change Electricity Production

Don’t underestimate the power of pee and poop in electricity production. It may sound like a wild way of tackling the challenge of generating electricity, but it’s an entirely viable way of getting the job done.


It is predicted that by 2050, the global population would cross 9.5 billion. Considering that much of our existing electricity is derived from fossil energy when supplying ample renewable power and combating climate change, this raises huge challenges.

The production of electricity through bacteria in devices called microbial fuel cells is one innovation that has received popularity in present years (MFCs). These fuel cells depend on their ability to “breathe” metals through some naturally present microbes that exchange electrons for producing electricity. Using compounds known as substrates, including organic compounds in contaminated water, will fuel this procedure.

At present, microbial fuel cells can produce energy to charge small devices like small fans, calculators, and Led bulbs. We can power the decorations lights on a small Christmas tree through “simulated wastewater.” But it has significant potential if the system is expanded.

Working of MFCs system

MFCs use a cathode scheme and anode, an electrode that can cross charge even in or out. A popular MFC system comprises an anode compartment and a membrane-separated cathode container at the anode end; the bacteria expand and turn the substrates into electrons, carbon dioxide, and protons.

Advantages of generating electricity via MFCs

There is a range of benefits producing energy by MFCs:

  • Systems could be organized anyplace,
  • They produce lesser ‘wastes’ than traditional wastewater treatment technologies like the activated sludge process,
  • They could be small-scale, but larger systems can be designed using a modular system,
  • They have quite a high salt threshold or work at room temp.

The production of a large variety of sustainable substrates which can be used in MFCs to create power has the capacity in the long term to transform the generation of energy. These substrates comprise urine, organic material in polluted water, contaminants excreted into the soil by natural vegetation (root exudates), inorganic substances such as sulfides, and even toxic gaseous air pollutants.

#1: Power of the Pee

The environment-friendly substance can be transformed into energy present in waste products like urine and feces. This was shown in a Ghanaian microbial fuel cell washroom, which indicated that possible power plants could even be bathrooms in the future. Regulated for 2 years, the urinal produced 268 W/m2 of energy, adequate to fuel a Led bulb within the lavatory while extracting ammonia from pee and composting the poop.

The use of sewage in lavatories to generate power may genuinely be groundbreaking for areas with really no grid energy or even for refugee centers.

#2: Plant MFCs

Plant root exudates, which are termed plant MFCs, are yet another sustainable and renewable substrate that MFCs can use to make energy. Carbs like sugars, some of which have been exuded into plant roots, are produced as plants develop. The carbohydrates are transformed into electrons, protons, and carbon dioxide by microbes at the roots.

The protons are exchanged across membranes in a plant MFC and integrate with oxygen to close the electron transport loop. The energy is produced can be channeled by attaching a load into the system.

Plant MFCs can vastly improve electricity development in remote regions that have no grid access. Roads could be illuminated using plants in villages.

#3: Microbial desalination cells

Microbial desalination cells are a whole other type of microbial fuel cells. These machines use bacteria to produce energy from wastewater, at the same time desalinating the water. The wastewater still is desalinated uses channels of negatively and positively charged ions to be placed in a container situated between the anode and cathode regions of MFCs.

After wastewater is utilized by bacteria in the anode compartment, photons are emitted. Those protons could not travel via the anion membrane, so cations come into the anode compartment from the saline water. The cathode protons are utilized. Then anions pass from the saline water to the cathode compartment, desalinating the bottom layer’s water. In the cathode and anode tanks, ions produced aid to boost electricity production.

Traditional desalination of water is quite energy-consuming and also expensive. A method that enables large-scale desalination while generating (not utilizing) electricity will be groundbreaking.

#4: Increasing the yield of natural gas

Anaerobic digestion can extract electricity from polluted water by biogas production, which is mainly methane, the primary component of natural gas. Anaerobic digestion is when microbes are used to decompose biodegradable or toxic matter despite requiring oxygen. But generally, this method is slow.

Findings indicate that ions have been called interspecies electron transfer-are exchanged by the soil microorganisms used inside this anaerobic digester, setting up the potential to use positive ions to control their digestion.

The methane gas yield (and thus the energy that can be extracted from combined power and heat plants) can be greatly increased by providing a limited voltage to anaerobic digesters, a method called electro-methanogenesis.

Although microbial fuel cells can produce energy to charge small machines, scientists are researching ways to build up the generators to maximize the level of electricity they can produce and understand exactly how extracellular electron transfer functions. Just a few beginning firms start to launch microbial fuel cells, like Robial and Plant-e. In the future, throughout long-term human space flights, bacterial fuel cells could also be used to produce energy in adaptive life support systems. It’s a new era, but there is a lot of innovation that holds potential.


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