To create renewable energy from wastewater. That’s the ambitious project of Greek scientists, in collaboration with UK researchers, funded by the Hellenic Foundation for Research & Innovation in Athens. The scientists are developing “microbial fuel cells”, bio-electrochemical systems that use bacteria to convert organic and inorganic compounds found in wastewater, to produce electricity.
The Greek team is testing the technology with the backing of a loan to the Hellenic Foundation from the European Investment Bank. It’s the kind of innovative product that will be needed to meet international climate targets.
The project brings together researchers from different fields to tackle daunting scientific and technological challenges and involves three universities: the National Technical University of Athens, the School of Sciences of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at the University of the West of England.
“Any efforts to develop and implement strategies for resource recovery, renewable energy generation or a more efficient use of existing resources are very important,” says Asimina Tremouli, researcher in the Department of Synthesis and Development of Industrial Processes at the National Technical University of Athens School of Chemical Engineering, who’s the Principal Investigator of the project.
The researchers’ earlier designs experienced electrochemical losses that limited the overall performance of the system. Now they’re introducing new materials to reduce implementation costs.
The new design model would represent a sustainable alternative to wastewater treatment and contribute to reduced pollution.
What is a microbial fuel cell?
Backed by a €180-million loan from the European Investment Bank signed in 2016 as well as Greek government financing, the Hellenic Foundation is running a range of research proposals from talented young scientists.
Here’s how the microbial fuel cell works.
The cell consists of an anode and a cathode, physically separated by a membrane. Microorganisms in the anode oxidise the underlying organic substances present in the wastewater, releasing protons and electrons as part of their anaerobic respiration. Protons flow through the membrane into the cathode electrode and electrons flow through the external circuit, producing a flow of electric current.