Skip to Content
Uncategorized

A Dirt-Bag Fuel Cell

A simple microbial fuel cell could offer reliable power in the developing world.

A startup that is striving to bring energy to countries that lack reliable power has developed a remarkably simple new microbial fuel-cell design: grain bags, stuffed with metal and dirt. Lebônê, a startup based at Harvard University, has already shown how to make fuel cells from buckets full of wastewater, with a graphite cloth as the anode and chicken wire as the cathode. In this setup, bacteria extract electrons from organic waste at the anode to generate small amounts of power–enough to charge, say, a flashlight or cell phone.

A contact at the company tells me that the bags work pretty much the same way, but they should be even easier to make and more portable than the bucket design. What’s more, owners can bury the bags in the yard, so that they are undisturbed and out of the way. They can even link several of the bags together–in series or in parallel–to increase the voltage or the electrode area, respectively.

The bags are fairly ubiquitous across Africa, according to the startup. “They’re very familiar to the people there, so it’s a natural material to use for something that we want to get widespread acceptance for,” says CTO Aviva Pressner. The team is still testing the best materials to use, and it reports that a graphite anode and aluminum cathode combination works well. With funding from a World Bank grant, Lebônê plans to deploy several hundred bags in Namibia this summer and thousands more in 2010.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Russian servicemen take part in a military drills
Russian servicemen take part in a military drills

How a Russian cyberwar in Ukraine could ripple out globally

Soldiers and tanks may care about national borders. Cyber doesn't.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

mouse engineered to grow human hair
mouse engineered to grow human hair

Going bald? Lab-grown hair cells could be on the way

These biotech companies are reprogramming cells to treat baldness, but it’s still early days.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.