Jan 22, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Bacteria Can Help Create Organic Fuel Cell: Generating Cleaner Methane Power

May 23, 2017 07:16 PM EDT

Scientists have discovered that bacteria can help to convert methane directly into electric power. This discovery enables a cleaner electric power with the microbial fuel cell.

An international team of researchers from Penn State University has found a way to convert methane directly into electricity, without the need to transport the methane with the pipeline. The invention will decrease the leak of methane to the atmosphere, thus creating a cleaner energy. The team was led by Biotechnology Endowed Chair and Professor in Chemical Engineering at Penn State University, Thomas Wood.

Currently, the methane is shipped through the pipeline. During the transport process, greenhouse gas is leaked into the atmosphere. Scientists have been trying to find a way to instantaneously create electricity from methane gas, but it has not been successful until now.

"People have tried for decades to directly convert methane," Professor Wood said regarding the microbial fuel cell. "We've engineered a strain of bacteria that can."

The researchers use the synthetic biological approaches, including DNA cloning to create bacteria that reside in the Black Sea, that consume methane and produce acetate, electrons and energy enzyme that grabs electron. The researchers added the mixture of bacteria that produce the compound that is able to transport electrons to the electrode and complete the microbial fuel cell invention.

As the electrons reach the electrode, the flow of electrons generates the electrical power. The team has been publishing their research on the microbial fuel cell in the Nature Communication.

In this research, Professor Wood was working with his colleagues from Penn University and his counterpart from the National Institute of Cardiology in Mexico City to engineer the microbial fuel cell. The project was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Methane gas is the most simple alkaline, and its abundance makes methane the attractive fuel. However, its nature as greenhouse gas needs to be addressed to eliminate the leaked into the atmosphere. The microbial fuel cell may be the first important step to produce a cleaner methane power.

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