Microbial Electrochemical Systems
The Office of Naval Research has invested in basic and applied research for over a dozen years, to elucidate the microorganisms and mechanisms responsible for generating electrical power using microbial fuel cells (MFC) in the undersea environment. To further advance capabilities of MFCs, it’s necessary to understand the microbial physiology, genetics, and community interactions that enable electron transfer through electrode biofilms. It’s also necessary to develop the appropriate power conditioning strategies to allow conversion of the very low voltages obtainable from MFC’s to voltages usable in devices, and, methods for easy deployment.
It has been postulated that several factors may contribute to sub-optimal performance of the MFC, such as (1) internal resistance due to slow proton transfer through the media (water, biofilm) surrounding the electrode; (2) poor oxygen reduction kinetics at the cathode, due to scavenging of the O2 by aerobic bacteria at the electrode surface and suboptimal cathode materials; (3) nutrient transport limitation within anodic biofilms and the surrounding sediment; and (4) inefficient current collection across/through large area anodes. In order to develop useful predictive tools, as well as to efficiently power devices such as seafloor sensors (acoustic sensor arrays, optical sensors) or recharging stations for autonomous underwater vehicles, improved understanding and device designs are required to enable us to overcome these limitations.
Given the Navy’s intense focus on increasing energy efficiency and decreasing energy consumption across the naval enterprise, ONR is also interested in exploring the potential for microbial electrochemical systems (MES) for safe, sustainable, waste-to-energy conversion for shipboard and possibly shoreside applications.
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