A new fuel-cell concept, developed by an Michigan State University researcher, will allow biodiesel plants to eliminate the creation of hazardous wastes while removing their dependence on fossil fuel from their production process.
The platform, which uses microbes to glean ethanol from glycerol and has the added benefit of cleaning up the wastewater, will allow producers to reincorporate the ethanol and the water into the fuel-making process, said Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist and one of the co-authors.
“With a saturated glycerol market, traditional approaches see producers pay hefty fees to have toxic wastewater hauled off to treatment plants,” she said. “By cleaning the water with microbes on-site, we’ve come up with a way to allow producers to generate bioethanol, which replaces petrochemical methanol. At the same time, they are taking care of their hazardous waste problem.”
The results, which appear in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, show that the key to Reguera’s platform is her patented adaptive-engineered bacteria – Geobacter sulfurreducens. Geobacter are naturally occurring microbes that have proved promising in cleaning up nuclear waste as well in improving other biofuel processes.
Much of Reguera’s research with these bacteria focuses on engineering their conductive pili or nanowires. These hair-like appendages are the managers of electrical activity during a cleanup and biofuel production. First, Reguera, along with lead authors and MSU graduate students Allison Speers and Jenna Young, evolved Geobacter to withstand increasing amounts of toxic glycerol.
The next step, the team searched for partner bacteria that could ferment it into ethanol while generating byproducts that ‘fed’ the Geobacter. “It took some tweaking, but we eventually developed a robust bacterium to pair with Geobacter,” Reguera said. “We matched them up like dance partners, modifying each of them to work seamlessly together and eliminate all of the waste.”
Together, the bacteria’s appetite for the toxic byproducts is inexhaustible. “They feast like they’re at a Las Vegas buffet,” she added. “One bacterium ferments the glycerol waste to produce bioethanol, which can be reused to make biodiesel from oil feedstocks. Geobacter removes any waste produced during glycerol fermentation to generate electricity. It is a win-win situation.”
The hungry microbes are the featured component of Reguera’s microbial electrolysis cells, or MECs. These fuel cells do not harvest electricity as an output. Rather, they use a small electrical input platform to generate hydrogen and increase the MEC’s efficiency even more. The promising process already has caught the eye of economic developers, who are helping scale up the effort.
Through a Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization grant, Reguera and her team are developing prototypes that can handle larger volumes of waste. Reguera also is in talks with MBI, the bio-based technology “de-risking” enterprise operated by the MSU Foundation, to develop industrial-sized units that could handle the capacities of a full-scale biodiesel plant.
The next step will be field tests with a Michigan-based biodiesel manufacturer.
Layne Cameron | Eurek Alert!
The first genome of a coral reef fish
29.09.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
New switch decides between genome repair and death of cells
27.09.2016 | University of Cologne - Universität zu Köln
Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of light metals.
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart have now developed two new process variants that will considerably expand the areas of application for friction stir welding.
Technologie-Lizenz-Büro (TLB) GmbH supports the University of Stuttgart in patenting and marketing its innovations.
Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of...
Optical quantum computers can revolutionize computer technology. A team of researchers led by scientists from Münster University and KIT now succeeded in putting a quantum optical experimental set-up onto a chip. In doing so, they have met one of the requirements for making it possible to use photonic circuits for optical quantum computers.
Optical quantum computers are what people are pinning their hopes on for tomorrow’s computer technology – whether for tap-proof data encryption, ultrafast...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.
“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...
With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...
For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.
Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...
29.09.2016 | Event News
28.09.2016 | Event News
27.09.2016 | Event News
29.09.2016 | Materials Sciences
29.09.2016 | Materials Sciences
29.09.2016 | Interdisciplinary Research