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Directory:Penn State Microbial Fuel Cells Produce Hydrogen from Waste Water

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Page first featured November 13, 2007

Image:Microbial Electrolysis Cell diagram.jpg

'''Aka : "BioElectrochemically Assisted Microbial Reactor" (BEAMR)

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) represent a completely new method of renewable energy recovery: the direct conversion of organic matter (e.g. sewage waste) to electricity using bacteria. The method is highly efficient and produces a high volume of hydrogen.

A Penn State research group headed by Dr. Bruce Logan is working on developing MFCs that can generate electricity while accomplishing wastewater treatment.

Bacteria that feed on vinegar and waste water zapped with a shot of electricity could produce a clean hydrogen fuel to power vehicles that now run on petroleum. These microbial fuel cells can turn almost any biodegradable organic material into zero-emission hydrogen gas fuel.

The Penn State research group is now ready to begin the phase of demonstrating pilot-scale prototypes. It is yet too early to predice the price of this aparatus in commercial applications.

Microbial Fuel Cells

Official Websites - Microbial Fuel Cell

Video demonstration

produce electricity from ordinary domestic wastewater

researching methods to increase power generation from MFCs while at the same time recovering more of the energy as electricity

producing electricity from animal wastewaters

Slide Show


BioElectrochemically Assisted Microbial Reactor

Microbial fuel cell: High yield hydrogen source and wastewater cleaner - press release (not dated)

Dr. Bruce Logan's BioEnergy Research Group Website Dr. Logan's international MFC website

How it Works

"When bacteria are placed in the anode chamber of a specially-designed fuel cell that is free of oxygen, they attach to an electrode. Because they do not have oxygen, they must transfer the electrons that they obtain from consumption (oxidation) of their food somewhere else than to oxygen -- they transfer them to the electrode. In a MFC these electrons therefore go to the anode, while the counter electrode (the cathode) is exposed to oxygen. At the cathode the electrons, oxygen and protons combine to form only water. The two electrodes are at different potentials (about 0.5 V), creating a bio-battery (if the system is not refilled) or a fuel cell (if we constantly put in new food or "fuel" for the bacteria).

"By adding a small amount of voltage (0.25 V) to that produced at the anode in a MFC, and by not using oxygen at the cathode, you can produce pure hydrogen gas at the cathode! This is a modified MFC process we call the "bioelectrochemically assisted microbial reactor" or BEAMR process. This is a MFC operated in a completely anaerobic manner that uses the potential produced by bacteria, plus a small additional voltage (which could be produced by a MFC or other ways), that produces hydrogen through the recombination of protons and electrons at the cathode. Theoretically we need only 0.41 V to achieve this, so if the potential produced by bacteria could be increased (currently it is 0.3V), and the overpotential (losses) at the cathode reduced, we could one day produce hydrogen gas without additional voltage."

Image:PennState MicrobialFuelCells 500.jpg

Microbial Fuel Cells at Penn State

The baceria function in a temperature window ranging from 20 to 30 degrees Celcius.

Rather than use specific bacteria and special chemicals, the Penn State method involves bacteria already present in wastewater.

In a commercial application, Dr. Logan envisions a tank with the bacteria digesting the incoming waste, producing hydrogen with just a small stimulus of electricity, then flowing out into a settling pond (trickling filter) and what emerges is water that has much less organic matter than came into the system.


The team began working with various mixtures for the soup. Over time they discovered that by changing the temperature, altering the ratio of water to the source materials, even adding a small amount of electricity, they were able to achieve efficiencies in excess of 90%. Using straight vinegar, for example, a 91% efficiency was achieved. Other materials provide 68% efficiency for raw, un-pretreated cellulose, 82% for lactic acid and acetic acid--both byproducts from normal fermentation. Glucose lags furthest behind, being only 64% efficient.

Powerful return from input energy
Image:Microbial fuel cell Logan full jp70.jpg

The process produces 288% more energy than the electricity required to extract it. Compared to water hydrolysis, for example, which is only 50% to 70% efficient making it require more input energy than the extracted hydrogen yields, this process is far more desirable. It can be shown that even using enough of the harnessed energy to sustain the reaction, 144% more energy is produced. This makes the microbial soup solution a real application for energy generation.

Farm benefits

The researchers indicate another possible use for these kinds of microbial cells is for manufacturing fertilizer. Instead of using current methods, which involve trucking in fertilizer made in factories, very large farms could begin using microbial cells. They would take wood chips processed through a common practice used today, along with nitrogen from the air, to produce ammonia or nitric acid. These can both be used as sources of fertilizer, or as feed material to make ammonium nitrate, sulfate or phosphate.


Too early to say.


The research team has filed a patent for their discovery.


Company: Ion Power Inc.

A scientist from Ion Power Inc is working with the Penn State researchers on this project.

The Penn State work was funded by the National Science Foundation, as well as Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.

Inventor: Bruce E. Logan
Image:Bruce E Logan 100.jpg

Bruce Logan is Kappe professor of environmental engineering at Penn State, and an inventor of the MFC.

"Microbial Fuel Cells", by B.E. Logan is a new book on MFCs which will soon be published by John Wiley & Sons. (Email Dr. Logan if you are interested in purchasing a copy.)




New technique creates cheap, abundant hydrogen: report The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, AFP 12 Nov 07

In the News

Google News > - Other Public Organizations that have Reported Research by the Logan Group - magaazines, radio stations and articles that reported on MFC research by the Logan Group

Image:Penn-State waste-water to hydrogen sq 95x95.jpg
Directory:Waste-to-Energy / Directory:BioElectricity > Directory:Microorganisms in Energy Production / Directory:Hydrogen > Directory:Hydrogen Production > Directory:Penn State Microbial Fuel Cells Produce Hydrogen from Waste Water > Researchers turn wastewater into “inexhaustible” source of hydrogen - The dawn of the Hydrogen Age has arrived as researchers from Penn State have developed a Reverse Electro-Dialysis cell that can produce an unlimited amount of hydrogen from sea water, fresh water and microbes from organic waste with no electrical input. (News:GizMag September 19, 2011)

New Fuel Cell Cleans Up Pollution And Produces Electricity Scientists in Pennsylvania are reporting development of a fuel cell that uses pollution from coal and metal mines to generate electricity, solving a serious environmental problem while providing a new source of energy. (Science Daily Dec. 4, 2007)

Making Fuel from Leftovers - According to Penn State University researchers, feeding table scraps to bacteria may be a clean and efficient way to produce hydrogen that can be used as fuel. (MIT Technology Review] Nov. 26, 2007)

Image:Microbial Electrolysis Cell diagram 95x95.jpg

Bacteria extract hydrogen at over 90% efficiency - By creating a type of controlled microbial soup out of materials straight from a salad bar, a bacteria-induced chemical reaction takes place, ultimately resulting in large quantities of hydrogen gas. (TG Daily Nov. 14, 2007)

Waste Water Plus Bacteria Make Hydrogen Fuel - Bacteria that feed on vinegar and waste water zapped with a shot of electricity could produce a clean hydrogen fuel to power vehicles that now run on petroleum. These microbial fuel cells can turn almost any biodegradable organic material into zero-emission hydrogen gas fuel. (Reuters Nov. 13, 2007)

Yahoo News

Turkish Press

Microbial fuel cells might solve the hydrogen problem (Ars Technica, MA)

Hydrogen brewing gets an electrical boost (New Scientist (subscription), UK)

New technique creates cheap, abundant hydrogen: report (AFP)

Microbes Churn Out Hydrogen at Record Rate (Slashdot)

Microbial fuel cells might solve the hydrogen problem (ARS Technica November 12, 2007)

Other Coverage - Websites and other stories regarding BEAMR research.


See Talk:Directory:Penn State Microbial Fuel Cells Produce Hydrogen from Waste Water


Bruce E. Logan

Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering

231Q Sackett Bldg, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering

The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-863-7908, Fax: 814-863-7304

email: []

See also


Directory:Waste to Energy

Directory:Fuel Cells


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Directory:Hydrogen Production

Directory:Hydrogen from Water

Directory:Solar Hydrogen

Directory:Hydrogen Storage



Directory:Water as Fuel

Directory:Fuel Efficiency Hydrogen Injection

Directory:Hydroxy or HHO Injection Systems

Directory:HHOi under Air Pressure to the Fuel Rail to Provide Petrol Substitute

Directory:Running Vehicles on Water

OS:Water Fuel Cell

Directory:Alternative Fuels

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- Directory







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