Friday, November 6, 2009

Dirty Energy

Who says you can't play with dirt? Most smart geeks are nowadays, especially, the Lebone team of Harvard scientists who are transforming ideas into off the grid technology. For years, scientists have been aware that small amounts of electricity could be harvested from a metabolic reaction of good ole bacteria. After huge investments in R&D and elbow grease, the innovators known today as Lebone, have been working to end Africa's energy and light crisis through the emerging technology of microbial fuel cells (MFC's).

The MFC's were small pouches of inexpensive wire and manure rich soil that could power LED lights and charge cellphones. With tweaks to their design, in 2008, the Lebone team (meaning light stick in Southern African Sotho language) tested their prototypes in Tanzania. Arriving in a 5-gallon bucket, the device comprised a graphite cloth anode, chicken wire, manure mud (for fuel), sand (for the ion barrier) and saltwater (as an electrolyte). The learnings from the field test proved helpful for the 2009 pilot program featuring 100 interconnected MFC's for increased voltage. As long as the microbes were kept happy by munching away, the power could be produced. Read more about the team's African adventures here.
Image and Source: Popular Mechanics, Nov. 2009.

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