Development of an acetate- or sugar-fed microbial power generator for military bases

Project: Research project

Project Details


Military missions often require the transport of fuel, such as diesel, to military bases in remote locations. The delivery of such flammable fuels is very expensive and dangerous, particularly in hostile environments. An ideal fuel source for military missions would be nonflammable, renewable, and readily available. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are a new technology in which microbes convert organic compounds (sugars, alcohols, complex wastes) directly into electrical power. Microbial catalysis at the anode opens up the possibility to use non-flammable organic material as a fuel-cell fuel, not just H2, as with a conventional fuel cell. The advantage of an MFC over a gas-powered generator is two-fold. First, the MFC produces electrical power from renewable sources of energy, thus reducing the militarys dependence on oil. Second, the MFC can be fed with non-flammable fuel sources such as sucrose and acetic acid; using MFCs, military bases can decrease the high transportation costs of a flammable liquids and decrease potential threats due to hostile attacks. MFCs have been proven to produce significant power densities (>1 W/m2 of electrode) at a small scale. Our main goal for this proposal is to design an MFC as a module for future largescale applications that is capable of producing high power densities with minimal potential losses. We will use sucrose and acetate as the two test fuels since they are non-flammable, renewable, and readily available. Using our developed models, we can design efficient MFCs and evaluate their performance. We will use microbes enriched and isolated in our research group capable of consuming sucrose and acetic acid. Our research plan will consist of a 3-month evaluation and design period in which we will test the performance of different materials (anode and membrane) for the MFC modules. We will also use our past modeling efforts in MFC research to design prototypes for the MFC module. The prototypes will be then built and tested for 6 months. Through genomic, chemical, and electrochemical techniques, our team will study energy losses, fuel consumption efficiency, microbial communities, and optimum operational conditions for different MFC prototypes. Finally, we will use the best MFC module design to build a stack of at least 3 MFC modules to partially test scalability.
Effective start/end date9/1/102/28/12


  • DOD-NAVY: Office of Naval Research (ONR): $100,000.00

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