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Self-Powered Microbial Fuel Cell Produces Hydrogen

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the much-easier-than-harvesting-the-sun dept.

Biotech 58

donberryman writes "Researchers from Penn State have shown how microbial fuel cells can produce hydrogen without the need for an external source of electricity to power the process. It uses reverse-electrodialysis to capture energy from the difference in salinity between salt water and freshwater (abstract). Study co-author Bruce Logan explained the significance of the work: 'The breakthrough here is that we do not need to use an electrical power source anymore to provide a little energy into the system. All we need to do is add some fresh water and some salt water and some membranes, and the electrical potential that is there can provide that power.'"

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Clash of tides. (1)

Commontwist (2452418) | about 3 years ago | (#37463136)

So any freshwater river going into ocean could provide a continual source of hydrogen that can, in turn, be burned to produce electricity. Maybe even power it's own factory to compress the hydrogen for later energy storage. Nice.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

History's Coming To (1059484) | about 3 years ago | (#37463166)

It'll be down to the economics of scaling the thing up. What are the maintenance issues going to be? How many years useage? It's all about the payback points.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

wiedzmin (1269816) | about 3 years ago | (#37463430)

current cost of operating the new technology is too high to be used commercially

You could also extract gold from ocean water, but it would cost more than the gold is worth. So no, it isn't a free source of energy... yet anyways, until it can be improved to be cost effective.

Re:Clash of tides. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37463838)

As long as those things cost less than oil its a go.
If they cost less than coal its a win.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

linuxwolf69 (1996104) | about 3 years ago | (#37468366)

Unfortunately, Big Business only cares about their profits. If there's no profit in it, then being cheaper doesn't matter. It costs them more out of their profit margin.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | about 3 years ago | (#37463568)

Wasn't there another story within the past few months about power from a freshwater river going into the ocean??

Produce electricity directly using turbines (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 3 years ago | (#37463620)

So any freshwater river going into ocean could provide a continual source of hydrogen that can, in turn, be burned to produce electricity.

Why not just use turbines to generate electricity directly? []

Re:Produce electricity directly using turbines (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37465098)

Turbines in an esturial river will get clogged up. There is a huge amount of debris coming down a river and being moved back and forth with the tides. Just think of the stuff flowing down all those New England rivers after the recent Hurricane.

In these cases, water wheels are far more reliable. Tidal WaterMills have been in use for centuries. I can see one from my office window on a clear day.[eling tide mill near Southampton UK.)
Apart from slack water these can generate power 24/7.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

Bengie (1121981) | about 3 years ago | (#37463812)

Would have to be careful about not messing up the ecosystem.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 3 years ago | (#37463988)

Like ethanol, this energy source also has the potential to be in conflict with a basic human need: fresh water. The world is already running short of fresh water even now, even though it doesn't yet make the news on a regular basis.Mixing fresh water with salt water to produce hydrogen on a large scale will be hard to contemplate while millions are dying of drought and thirst. Like most other "miracle" energy sources, there is always a fly in the ointment.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

RobbieThe1st (1977364) | about 3 years ago | (#37464344)

Aside from the fact that the places that *have* the drout are far away from the places that have huge amounts of fresh water... which is otherwise getting wasted because we can't do anything with it and so just let it go into the ocean without gaining anything from it.

Obviously, you wouldn't use this where there's a lack of water.. but where there's a *huge* amount going into the ocean(like, say, Washington state, etc... it could be practical.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

pivot_enabled (188987) | about 3 years ago | (#37464872)

I agree that there are problems with this idea, however one of those problems is not that "the world is running short of fresh water". Firstly this idea would not,in and of itself, consume any fresh water. This idea only works where fresh water is meeting the sea. Secondly fresh water is extremely abundant.... It just isn't always necessarily where we want it to be.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

arose (644256) | about 3 years ago | (#37465036)

If only there was some way to turn that hydrogen back into freshwater after it's used to produce energy. Alas, nothing is ever that easy.

Re:Clash of tides. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37465532)

this is sarcasm right?

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

Plunky (929104) | about 3 years ago | (#37465696)

If only there was some way to turn that hydrogen back into freshwater after it's used to produce energy.

I wonder what the enviromental effects of moving to a hydrogen economy would be though? I mean, burning all that hyrdrogen would effectively dump water vapour into the atmosphere (and an updraught since most power generation is going to create heat in the area).. significantly more than before maybe? Perhaps people have already thought about this.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

Shark (78448) | about 3 years ago | (#37467656)

Heh, we've managed to convince the world that CO2 is a pollutant. H2O shouldn't be too much of a stretch, after all, it's an even stronger greenhouse gas.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

arose (644256) | about 3 years ago | (#37471576)

It only goes into the atmosphere if we don't capture it, which also happens to solve the wasted fresh water problem.

Re:Clash of tides. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37477908)

Yep! And the military, Navy I think, is working on a system for breaking down water for energy, reducing global water also. That's all people think of to do, destroying Matter. Except for me. I've been inventing for several decades. In 1989 I saw how to get the world's electrical needs supplied by lightning. The Dept. of Energy turned it down. I don't even think they looked at my submission. Six weeks later I got a form letter turndown. I later found out there was several agencies using that trick. They wait 6 weeks to go by then send the letter so you think they studied over it for 6 weeks.
Last year it was given me to know all of a sudden a flash of inspiration one day just HIT ME how to get the world's energy needs supplied by the weight of ocean water => (45 second video about Ocean Energy). In 2003 I came across a compressed-nitrogen engine made by one of the Space Shuttle design engineers... that had in fact run a prototype in 1997. But it only achieved 30 miles per hour. He had made some mistakes. It took 3 days to figure out what he had done wrong and I fixed it by changing it to plain air, with steam injected into the cylinder ahead of the liquid air (air becomes a liquid at minus 320 degrees). My engine that resulted I call a Climate Engine because using water & air in two separate cycles. They only come together for the tornadic explosion inside the cylinder then they separate again into separate repeating loops. It is a "closed system" where no fuel has to be added nor any exhaust being produced, so as you can imagine not needing a muffler, catalytic converter, heavy exhaust manifolds, my system is incredibly lighter. It doesn't even need a gas tank & heavy fuel. Since the cold air temperature is balanced by the hot steam there's no need for a cooling system, so there goes the heavy radiator & cooling system and poisonous antifreeze. By losing so much weight the vehicle needs less horsepower but this baby would have gobs of hp.
This year in May I had an idea how to make an engine based on Ezekiel 1 verse 16 the "wheel-within-a-wheel" as a steam engine that creates no pollution either. Instead of using wood or coal, like the old steamers & locomotives, it uses electrical heating elements. An engine like that on the return stroke is not being robbed of accumulating power (reverse entropy) by having to compress air as in gas & diesel combustion engines! So it accumulates power the longer it runs. There's a lot of people who know about my engines but since I'm one of Jehovah's Witnesses + my fantastic engines testify to there having been a Wise Creator they have to keep them suppressed... for fear other people would realize JW's are "tapped in" and start joining us hand over fist. You are very wise yourself to also make the same realizations about how wrong it is to destroy Matter to rape it of its energy. God knows your heart. Find the doors to a Kingdom Hall soon my friend, this world system is about to be erased. Only those who join the "Great Crowd" of Revelation 7 verses 9-14 are going to be protected by angels to survive Armageddon. Leave me a message under the YouTube video if you wish to pursue further. I left many comments there explaining a number of my other engines. Be aware that you do not have a long time => You need to pick up your feet => like Remo Williams!

Re:Clash of tides. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37464034)

Or maybe we'll finally have enough power to run a global spell-checker that can finally end the terrifying confusion about it's meaning it is. It's beyond human skill, I know.

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

planimal (2454610) | about 3 years ago | (#37464188)

you mean a hydroelectric dam?

Re:Clash of tides. (1)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | about 3 years ago | (#37465758)

Actually this is not news, the first salinity based power station prototype was built in 2009 [] . What the summary should say is "Hydrogen proponents pretend to invent yet another technology". It seems to me that people in the hydrogen lobby produce a lot of stories in the vein "new inventions mean hydrogen IS in fact viable" whereas in reality all they are talking about is advances in electricity production or minute increases in the efficiency of hydrogen production which bring it closer to 50% thermal efficiency than before.

Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37463162)

(Roughly 1 billion people lack access to freshwater)

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (3, Insightful)

Skidborg (1585365) | about 3 years ago | (#37463312)

Fresh water only has to be water without salt in it. It does not have to be clean drinkable water.

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about 3 years ago | (#37463534)

ya know its not freaking rocket surgery to desalinize water, give those people some toughs, clear plastic and some tinfoil and teach them how to use it. One great fictional character once supposedly said "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and feed him for a lifetime" (yes in English...) which is not that bad of a bit of advice IMO

Now I know that wont help every single person in need, but that would drastically cut down that number, for the rest maybe they can learn how to use a bucket to hold rain water and be educated that fire kills most nastys living in it.

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

tloh (451585) | about 3 years ago | (#37463990)

Implicit in the lack of fresh water is the presence of obstacle to overcome that scarcity. Many of us living in first world countries take for granted a plentiful supply of cheap plastic and tinfoil or the existence of infrastructure that facilitate their creation, use, and safe disposal.

Often the places where people need water the most are also places that rains the least (or least conveniently). Fires require fuel, which is also not always available or cheap.

If the solutions were even remotely simple, communities and market forces would have solved this problem a long time ago. Thanks for trying, but no cigar.

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (0)

Osgeld (1900440) | about 3 years ago | (#37464048)

ok well instead of sending them billions of gallons of bottled water, why dont we send them a few tons of plastic wrap, tinfoil and nails?

and no I believe that what once was a problem has become welfare, somehow those exact same people have managed thousands of years in the exact same conditions, why and how? It sure as hell was not the world sending them a welfare check every month was it?

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

shentino (1139071) | about 3 years ago | (#37465484)

Water is expensive when power hungry warlords want it to be.

It's easy to control a population when they're thirsty.

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37465620)

If the solutions were even remotely simple, communities and market forces would have solved this problem a long time ago.

My community solved this problem thousands of years ago. We moved from places that were hot and arid to places that were cooler and wetter

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

matunos (1587263) | about 3 years ago | (#37465506)

Brilliant. That will keep them occupied as they die of thirst.

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | about 3 years ago | (#37468014)

Ah. Parent should have written: (Roughly 1 billion people lack access to water.)

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

linuxwolf69 (1996104) | about 3 years ago | (#37468584)

How does that help someone in a desert climate? Or how about someone that is hundreds of miles from the ocean? Even better, an area that has had almost NO rain in the last 6 months with 100+ degree temperatures almost daily, causing a water shortage and the local lakes to start drying up?

The point is, water shortages occur despite the ease of converting rain water and salt water. If there is neither rain nor salt water it's kind of difficult to convert it to drinking water.

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37464120)

I'm sure that they will decide to use such systems in locations where fresh water is difficult to get. Just makes sense is all.

Re:Who needs freshwater anyway? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 3 years ago | (#37464134)

We have these big fresh water sources called rivers that run into these big salt water sources called oceans. Nobody's using either at that point.

Another impractical source (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37463218)

"However, the team added, the current cost of operating the new technology is too high to be used commercially."

Translated just because I can rub my cat on the carpet and briefly light up a bulb it doesn't mean I can power my house with a cat and a piece of carpet. Also it tends to piss off the cat.

A fuel cell that produces hydrogen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37463238)

Can that compete with my engine that produces gasoline, though?

lol niggers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37463288)

Did you hear about the nigger in Alabama who was shot 14 times in the chest? The sheriff said it was the worst case of suicide he ever saw.

Cool. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37463306)

So are we trading a dwindling resource for one that's already rare (fresh water)? Could someone shine some light on this for me? Obviously, I'm ignorant to all this but if this isn't an issue, then this is an awesome breakthrough!

Re:Cool. (1)

cynyr (703126) | about 3 years ago | (#37466258)

see above about rivers + oceans etc...

old tech (0)

MichaelKristopeit407 (2018814) | about 3 years ago | (#37463334)

i did this exact experiment in high school chemistry.

slashdot = stagnated.

I saw this a while back (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37463346)

And my thought was that you have the hydrogen generation at the bottom of a hill or mountain, let the hydrogen flow in a pipe uphill, burn or fuel cell it for energy up there, run the exhaust through a radiator so it cools to water, then at night, release the water downhill to get energy at night.

The real question (3, Interesting)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 3 years ago | (#37463358)

is how much energy does it take to produce the membrane, what is their effective live span, and are you actually 'producing' any energy. Hopefully with the boost from the waste feeding bacteria the answer is yes.

small problem (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | about 3 years ago | (#37463464)

like all the past bacterial solutions, it's growing them in mass that is the limiting factor. now, if they can alter some of these bacteria to divide continuously to make non-dividing bacteria then it will be a serious solution.

in short, same ol' solution with the same ol' problem.

New power source story of the week! (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 3 years ago | (#37463650)

Wow. It's the obligatory "New discovery of an inefficient solar energy collection system using [seawater, algae, corn, etc.] whose output is [hydrogen, hydrocarbon lipids, alcohol] which [wrecks metal machinery, doesn't scale and has an EROEI is either barely over 1, or sometimes less]."

Man, it's been over a week since I read one of those. Guess we don't have to worry about that pesky cheap, high-EREOI hydrocarbon depletion thing now.

It is SOLAR powered not SELF powered (1)

pivot_enabled (188987) | about 3 years ago | (#37463668)

The freshwater doesn't magically appear and it isn't free. Solar energy create the weather that lofts all that freshwater into the atmosphere so that it can return as rain and enter a river and make its way back to the interface with that saltwater.... where we can create a system to turn it into hydrogen.... or we could just capture the solar energy more directly and turn it into electricity and use it!

Re:It is SOLAR powered not SELF powered (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 3 years ago | (#37463786)

...or we could just capture the solar energy more directly and turn it into electricity and use it!

We could. However, nature will continue to do its thing regardless of what we're also doing. The question is, can we also benefit from what nature is doing and is going to keep doing regardless, or is it not economically feasible to benefit from nature's efforts? If there is some efficient way to harvest nature's bounty here, we'd be fools to let the energy go to waste, unless harvesting it causes some significant harm or is simply not cost effective.

Re:It is SOLAR powered not SELF powered (1)

pivot_enabled (188987) | about 3 years ago | (#37464508)

Yeah it's true. I was over reacting a bit to their use of the term "self powered". Also my BS sensors go off whenever anyone talks about using hydrogen as an energy source. First we need to use some kind of power to generate the hydrogen and then we still have the problem of packing it tightly into a fuel tank. The funny thing is that we already know exactly how to do that.... We call them hydrocarbons and they are a very efficient hydrogen transport mechanism. If only it weren't for those pesky carbon atoms polluting the environment.

Re:It is SOLAR powered not SELF powered (1)

Namarrgon (105036) | about 3 years ago | (#37463982)

You can say the same about hydro, wind, or wave energy, or even fossil fuels if you like. Basically every energy source we have apart from nuclear & geothermal, ultimately derives from the sun.

The important part is, can we harness it efficiently enough? Evaporation is already happening, over a vast surface area, and that's something we may be able to tap into more cheaply than via manufactured PV cells.

Re:It is SOLAR powered not SELF powered (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 3 years ago | (#37464076)

Don't forget tidal. Seriously, I forgot about tidal during an exam once. Cost me a point. Didn't like that.

Re:It is SOLAR powered not SELF powered (1)

Unkyjar (1148699) | about 3 years ago | (#37464150)

Wouldn't tidal be moon powered energy rather than sun?

Wow! They've intented the BATTERY! (1)

Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) | about 3 years ago | (#37464126)

lol. Really, if you're going to need a small amount of current, then a small replaceable NiMH battery that the fuel cell can recharge would make LOTS more sense than something you have to maintain like this? I don't get it...

Microbial Fuel Cells discussion group (2)

drwho (4190) | about 3 years ago | (#37464296)

The MFC community isn't large, however had an online discussion forum going for four years now over at Yahoo, . It has many academics on it, but is not unfriendly to the hobbyist. MFCs are one of few the areas of alternative energy and biotech in which it is relatively easy and inexpensive for beginners to get a functional device. I am not saying that the area of study is trivial, because there's a difference between something functional and something notable for its efficiency. But you can "muck about" in it. If this type of thing interests you, please come join us!

Finally! (1)

matunos (1587263) | about 3 years ago | (#37465522)

We've found a way to produce the most abundant element in the universe!

Re:Finally! (2)

sgt scrub (869860) | about 3 years ago | (#37467896)

If you know of an abundant source of free hydrogen please point it out.

Recycpled post? (1)

scorp1us (235526) | about 3 years ago | (#37465890)

I remember reading about this about 5-10 years again New Scientist magazine.

Not as simple as it sounds (1)

arisvega (1414195) | about 3 years ago | (#37466540)

Especially when "all it takes is some membranes". There is a way to use a similar process, and make fresh water out of sea water- it is called 'reverse osmosis', it is brilliant, slow but otherwise efficient and it pretty much works on its own and yields -at a naive first look- huge amounts of free fresh drinkable water. But the membranes involved are the ones that do all the trick, and they are pretty damn expensive to acquire and maintain.

More about the bacteria (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | about 3 years ago | (#37467848)

Here is a link to an abstract on how to harvest the bacteria. Ochrobactrum anthropi YZ-1 [] If anyone has any other info on harvesting or economically growing the bacteria please post it here.

Sensationalistic headlines (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 3 years ago | (#37468318)

Let me point out yet another round of pseudo-scientific articles with sensational headlines. This time it is the term "self-powered" which implies to the layman that it is "free energy" or "perpetual motion" when in reality it is "salt-powered" as it requires a constant supply of saltwater and freshwater.

Great (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37468370)

Ship it.

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