Researchers light a Christmas tree using bacteria

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UNIVERSITY of Westminster researchers have found that bacteria in devices called Microbial Fuel Cells can generate enough electricity to light a Christmas tree.

The cross-disciplinary collaborative research was undertaken by Dr Godfrey Kyazze from the School of Life Sciences and Professor Izzet Kale and Dr Volkan Turgul from the School of Computer Science and Engineering.

Dr Kyazze commented on the development: “Microbial Fuel Cells have a bright future in generating electricity sustainably.

“More research is however still needed to improve power output by understanding electron transfer mechanisms, scaling up reactors used and reducing the cost of materials used.”

The research, sponsored by the Global Challenges Research Fund, used types of naturally-occurring bacteria which survive by ‘breathing’ lumps of iron into their surroundings.

The researchers tricked the microbes into ‘breathing’ conductive solid supports with electrons that were generated and stored in a custom designed electronic circuit, generating enough electricity to light a Christmas tree.

Dr Turgul added: “This is an extremely exciting field to work in, bringing together know-how from physics, chemistry, microbiology and electronics to solve a very real problem that will for sure benefit mankind.

“I look forward to deploying an up-scaled experimental Microbial Fuel Cells at the University soon and in a developing country soon after.”

The research findings from this project are particularly important, as the lack of electricity is a big problem especially in developing countries and reliance on electricity supply from fossil fuels is arguably not sustainable or environmentally friendly.

Professor Kale summarised: “Now that we better understand the problem, the electronics and control systems needed to optimise the generation, harvesting and storage of the energy should be easier.”