How can you get electricity from mud? Well, it turns out there’s a bacteria for that.
In a fascinating development that could have huge implications for the future of energy production, scientists have discovered a species of bacteria called Geobacter sulfurreducens produce tiny wires called pili that allow them to transfer electrons from mud to metals or other conductive materials.
Pulling electricity from mud
Geobacter sulfurreducens belongs to a group of organisms called electrogenic bacteria. They’re unique in that they are able to transfer electrons from organic matter to metals or other conductive materials. This process is known as extracellular electron transfer. It allows the bacteria to generate electricity using devices called microbial fuel cells (MFC).
Generating electricity from mud could be useful for powering small devices in remote areas where traditional power sources aren’t available. Since the bacteria can be easily cultivated in large quantities, the equipment needed to generate electricity from mud is relatively simple and inexpensive. That can also make it a good option for developing countries or areas where traditional power sources are unreliable.
The bacteria could also be used for environmental cleanup. It’s even an environmentally friendly technology since the bacteria consume organic waste and produce electricity as a byproduct.
A broader trend
While this may all seem beyond belief, scientists have actually been using bacteria to generate electricity for a while. They have experimented with wastewater, food waste, and even human urine. The hope is that these bacterial technologies can eventually help us address climate change, energy security, and environmental degradation.
Of course, there are some serious challenges to face before we can implement this kind of tech. For example, it requires massive amounts of bacteria to generate a decent amount of electricity. So there are valid concerns about the scalability of this technology. Then there are the obvious ethical concerns people have about using living organisms to help clean up messes humans have made.
Despite all this, the potential of bacteria-based electricity generation may play an important role in shaping our future.