Scientists want to use bacteria to revolutionize energy storage

Cornell University researchers propose using biology to transform the storage of sustainable energy.

Scientists want to use bacteria to revolutionize energy storage
  • Scientists from Cornell University suggest using biology to transform sustainable energy storage.
  • The researchers propose combining biological and non-biological electrochemical engineering to improve on photosynthesis.
  • Using electroactive microbes can produce biofuels.

For renewable energy to become more widespread, fresh technology that can facilitate storing it on a large scale needs to be developed. A team of researchers from Cornell University wants to use biology to solve the problem. They propose employing bacteria to store such energy in a solution at once sustainable and ingenious.

Scientists think electroactive microbes can be engineered to work with wind and solar energy to produce biofuels like isobutanol and propanol that can be burned on their own or added to other substances — gasoline, for instance.

"We think biology plays a significant role in creating a sustainable energy infrastructure," explained Buz Barstow, the study's senior author and assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell. "Some roles will be supporting roles and some will be major roles, and we're trying to find all of those places where biology can work."

The particular way in which the electroactive microbes would work is by borrowing electrons from solar or wind energy, then using it to break apart carbon dioxide molecules from the air to draw out carbon atoms. These carbon atoms can then be turned into biofuels, explains the press release from Cornell.

Farshid Salimijazi, a graduate student and the paper's first author, said that their approach aims to "stitch together biological and non-biological electrochemical engineering to create a new method to store energy".

For their ideas, the scientists took the cues from nature, studying photosynthesis in particular. This natural process is great at storing massive amounts of solar energy, which it turns into biofuels. In fact, over a year, photosynthesis traps six times the solar energy that the whole civilization uses up at that time.

But this process is not as efficient as it could be, capturing just a fraction (less than 1%) of the energy that reaches photosynthesizing cells. What can be more efficient, say the scientists, is to use electroactive microbes which can utilize photovoltaics to take in electricity into their metabolism. This energy will then turn carbon dioxide into biofuels.

Other kinds of renewable energy sources, not just solar, can power such processes. The researchers plan next to figure out which combination of electrochemical and biological components would produce the best results.

Check out the new study "Electrical Energy Storage With Engineered Biological Systems" in the Journal of Biological Engineering. Besides Barstow and Salimijazi, Erika Parra of MultiPHY Laboratories, Inc., was also involved in the paper, as a co-author.

The Key to Solving the Energy Crisis: A Leaf?

A process that mimics photosynthesis could create a fuel that provides energy ...

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

R. attenuata escaping from a black-spotted pond frog.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less

The cost of world peace? It's much less than the price of war

The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
  • That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
  • Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
  • Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
  • Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

The evolution of modern rainforests began with the dinosaur-killing asteroid

The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.

Velociraptor Dinosaur in the Rainforest

meen_na via Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
  • A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
  • The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast