Microbial Fuel Cell UPSC (Science & Technology) Notes

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : November 6th, 2020

Microbial Fuel Cell is covered in the UPSC GS Mains Science &Technology syllabus (Energy; Science and Technology- Developments and their Applications and Effects in Everyday Life; Indigenization of Technology and Developing New Technology)


Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC)

Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC), also called a biological fuel cell, is a bio-electrochemical device, which uses bacteria to break down organic wastes and sewage to generate an electric current.


Working of Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC)

The Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) is divided into two chambers: one with a positively charged electrode (anode) and the other with the negatively charged electrode (cathode). Bacteria are present on the anode side. A semipermeable membrane is sandwiched between two chambers.

The bacteria are used as the catalysts to oxidise organic and inorganic matter and generate current.

In Oct 2019, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) announced that a fern has started taking its own selfies at the London Zoo. This feat was achieved installing microbial fuel cells in Pete, a maidenhair fern.


Advantages of Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC)

  • Generating electricity using microbes implies that MFC is self-sustaining, as bacteria self-replicate and continue to produce power indefinitely so long as there is a food source to feed the bacteria.
  • MFC can effectively work on sources like food waste and sewage.
  • MFCs cause no pollution.
  • A solution to many problems like the scarcity of water in drought-prone regions.


Applications of MFC

MFC has potential applications in various fields.

1. Wastewater treatment:

  • MFCs are used in water treatment to harvest energy utilizing anaerobic digestion. The process can also reduce pathogens, but requires >30 degrees temperature.
  • Brewery and food manufacturing water residue contains inorganic compounds, which can be a food source for microorganisms.

2. Desalination: Removing dissolved salts in water has never been affordable as it requires a huge amount of energy. But using adapted MFC, removing salts in water could be undertaken without external electrical energy output.

3. Hydrogen production: MFC can also be used to generate hydrogen, which can be used as an alternative fuel.

4. Biosensor: The current generated from a microbial fuel cell is directly proportional to the organic-matter content of wastewater used as the fuel. MFCs can measure the solute concentration of wastewater.



More research into MFC could provide efficient energy and make better the lives of many people in the drought-prone regions who lack access to basic amenities such as energy and clean water. 

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