Microbes may be used more easily to generate energy, scientists said on Monday after a study figured out how they naturally let off tiny electrical charges.
We should be able to use this finding to harvest more electricity from the bacteria. Until now it's been a bit like trying to build a radio when you don't know what type or size of battery you are going to put into it,” said lead author Tom Clarke of the University of East Anglia in England.
The bacteria, found with “nanowires made of protein, emerging out of their cell walls, might also be used to clean up oil spills or uranium pollution, according to the report in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Tom Clarke said, “All living things generate electricity, it's not the stuff of science fiction”.
Bacteria use their wires to discharge excess electricity. If they get a build-up of charge then everything else stops, from feeding to respiration, he said.
A report in 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said, “It may not solve all of our energy problems, but it would go a long way to solve our water energy problems.”
The exact anatomical structure of the bacteria and their wires-like appendages needs to be known for scientists to design electrodes with better contacts to pick up the charges, let off by the microbes to avoid a build-up of electricity.
The findings can help develop microbe-based agents to clean up oil or uranium pollution, as well as use of fuel cells powered by sewage or compost.
It could be a useful agent to clean up accidents like Japan's Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March, as it can separate Uranium from waste water.