Superbugs: Efficient Generator of Electricity
I had heard about the idea of the microbial fuel cell before and if I could somehow motivate myself to work in my lab again it might be something I would pursue, but when I read the name Bacillus stratosphericus I thought it must be an April Fools joke or something. It seems that B. stratosphericus isn’t a joke (though I found it difficult to find web pages that weren’t related to this basic premise) so there might be something interesting there. However, the reported output of “200 Watts per cubic metre” makes me want to grin again. From a purely scientific point of view it is interesting, but from any other point of view it seems totally useless. Sure, if we ignore every other bit of reality, bacteria doubling every 30 minutes quickly coat the universe in goo in just a few days. The reality, though, is that level of output is unsustainable and real systems collapse. So, to talk about a cubic meter putting out 200 watts is almost silly. I am sure I can build something biological based that occupies a cubic meter and will produce more than 200 watts and I bet it will cost orders of magnitude less than whatever silly thing they are talking about and of course solar panels can easily capture that much energy per square meter.
Still, from a scientific point of view, this is interesting as if we can convert biological fuel directly into electricity and avoid the need to boil water and spin up turbines we can handle a lot of inefficiency. At this point, though, it seems like nothing more than a curiosity. Bump up the output by an order of magnitude or twain and ensure the cost/watt is very low and now you are on to something!