Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) technology has the potential to generate power from a range of organic waste materials including waste water and human urine. The technology uses bacteria to generate electricity from waste by converting chemical energy into electrical energy by the catalytic reaction of microorganisms. The technology also simultaneously helps sanitise the waste material used.
The MFC technology utilises naturally-abundant microbes in the anode compartment of the cell that work as a bio-catalyst. When the organic waste is fed into the cell the microbes generate electrons by consuming the waste as part of their natural metabolic process. When connected to the cathode, electricity is generated with the movement of electrodes. A group of UK scientists with backing from Bill Gates are developing a MFC device specially designed to generate electricity from human urine.
In a separate development, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in the beginning of 2014, developed a hybrid fuel cell that can directly convert a wide range of soluble biomass to electricity with the use of a catalyst that can be activated by solar or thermal energy. Biomass is ground up and mixed with a photochemical and thermochemical catalyst called polyoxometalate (POM) in solution.
The POM oxidises the biomass under photo or thermal irradiation and carries charge to the cathode. The technology combines the photochemical and solar-thermal biomass degradation in a single chemical process to generate electricity without using expensive metal catalysts. The POM catalyst can also be re-used without further treatment.