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seed grant competition

Enhancing power generation of microbial fuel cells with nanoscale electrode technologies
Lingying Zhao, Food, agricultural and Biological engineering ann d. christy, Food, agricultural and Biological engineering

Energy demand is increasing globally and locally, while concerns over the economic and environmental costs of continuing to use conventional fossil fuels have prompted a growing interest in renewable energy sources. Converting biomass to energy is an attractive option because cellulosic biomass, including agricultural products and solid wastes, is one of the most abundant renewable sources of energy on earth. The microbial fuel cell (MFC) is an emerging technology that can convert a wide range of biomass directly into useful energy in the form of bioelectricity. MFCs do not require the intermediate steps of conversion to fuel and combustion of that fuel, thus avoiding large losses in the energy conversion processes. They are environmentally clean, quiet, and highly efficient devices. However, their low power density output currently limits broad application of the technology. Prior research had identified that the surface area of MFC electrodes is an important factor affecting electricity generation. Therefore, the OARDC research team explored the use of micro- and nanoscale structures on the electrode to enlarge their surface area without increasing the overall size of the MFC device itself, potentially raising electricity output and enabling microbial fuel cells to power a wider range of practical applications. The project aimed to develop MFCs with nanostructure electrodes, test and characterize them, and evaluate the power output and overall performance of these MFCs in comparison with MFCs with conventional graphite bar electrodes. The two-year study reached the following conclusions: (1) increasing electrode surface area using microscale graphite powder improved MFC power production; (2) using microscale-activated carbon and nanoscale carbon nanotube powder did not significantly increase MFC power production due to problems with high internal

ann d. christy (left) and Lingying Zhao

Cellulosic biomass, including agricultural products and solid wastes, is one of the most abundant renewable sources of energy on earth.
resistances; and (3) nanostructure electrodes made with stainless steel mesh by flame synthesis could significantly reduce the cost and internal resistance of enhancedsurface-area MFCs, thus increasing the feasibility of using nanoelectrodes with this technology. Future efforts will focus on seeking funding for interdisciplinary projects to develop nanostructure electrodes for MFCs, including flame synthesis methods, as well as examine how running the fuel cells in a continuous flow mode would provide better stability and greater power production. Another ongoing effort is studying the role of different external electric circuits, their effect on the microorganisms within the microbial fuel cells, and their potential to enhance MFC voltage output.

www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/seeds SEEDS: The OARDC Research Enhancement Competitive Grants Program