CBET Award Achievements
Notable Accomplishments from CBET Awards

Microbes Churn Out Hydrogen at Record Rate

Bruce Logan    Pennsylvania State University at University Park

Background:  SGER award, "Determination of the Potential Generation of Electricity from Wastewater Using a Microbial Fuel Cell," was made to Bruce Logan in 2003 for high risk, potentially high reward research.  Promising preliminary results were obtained, which led to additional related grants, including, "Improving Power Generation in Microbial Fuel Cells," and, "Microbial Fuel Cell Architectures for a New Wastewater Treatment System."

Results:  With an initial SGER grant, Bruce Logan's group has produced over 20 publications in peer-reviewed journals, reporting progress toward practical generation of electric power or hydrogen by microbial fuel cells, starting from raw materials that can include waste streams.  In the November 12, 2007 online version of Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, Logan and co-worker Cheng announced that they have increased hydrogen yield to a new record for this type of system (addition of a small jolt of electricity was required).  Yields as high as 91% from vinegar (acetic acid), and 68% from cellulose, were achieved.  Incorporating all energy inputs and outputs, the overall efficiency of the vinegar-fueled system is better than 80%, far better than the efficiency for generating ethanol.  (Note:  If production of hydrogen is not the objective, then electric power can be generated by microbial fuel cells.)

Bruce Logan Image
Figure:  Researchers have designed a microbial electrolysis cell in which bacteria break up acetic acid (a product of plant waste fermentation) to produce hydrogen gas with a very small electric input from an outside source.  Hydrogen can then be used for fuel cells or as a fuel additive in vehicles that now run on natural gas.

Image Credit:  Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation

This project addresses the NSF strategic outcome goals, as described in the NSF Strategic Plan 2006-2011, of:

(1) Discovery:  This NSF-funded project advances discovery through research on the frontiers of microbial fuel cells.

(2) Learning:  Pending

Primary Strategic Outcome Goal: 
(1) Discovery:
  - Disciplinary/Interdisciplinary Research

Secondary Strategic Outcome Goal: 
(2) Learning:
  - Graduate Education and Graduate Student Research

Scientific Uniqueness:  This work is unique because it provides potential practical generation of electric power or hydrogen fuel with microbial fuel cells.

This research is transformative because, Bruce Logan's group is a major contributor to establishing the transformative paradigm of microbial fuel cells as a practical source of electric power and hydrogen fuel, starting from raw materials that can include waste streams.

Existing or potential societal benefits of this research:  This research may result in a new practical source of electric power and hydrogen fuel.

Program Officer:
  Bruce Hamilton
CBET Program Director, Environmental Sustainability
NSF Award Number:   0730359
Award Title:   Microbial Fuel Cell Architectures for a New Wastewater Treatment System
PI Name:   Bruce Logan
Institution Name:   Pennsylvania State Univ-University Park
Program Elements:   7643, 1440
NSF Investments:
  American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI)
Climate Change
Homeland Security
National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)
Environment (including the importance of fresh water and dynamics of water processes)
Understanding Complex Biological Systems (including the
    interfaces of life, physical, and computational sciences)
CBET Nugget:   FY 2008

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This Nugget was Updated on 30 December 2008.