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News Release 05-064

Waste Not, Want Not

Bacteria-driven cell produces hydrogen for fuel while cleaning wastewater

Hong Liu (left) and Bruce Logan examine the microbial reactor system

Hong Liu (left) and Bruce Logan examine the microbial reactor system.

April 25, 2005

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

By harnessing the efforts of billions of bacteria, researchers have engineered a bio-filtration system that produces hydrogen gas while cleaning wastewater – gas that could potentially fuel other machines. Up to 100 percent  more efficient at producing hydrogen than similar bio-filtration systems, the new device has the added benefit of being able to digest human or animal waste, plant material or just about any organic matter.

Hong Liu and Bruce Logan of Penn State University and Stephen Grot of Ion Power, Inc. of New Castle, Del. announced their findings online April 22, 2005, in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

A Penn State University press release is available at: A follow-up release about a scaling-up of the microbial fuel cell technology is at:

Bruce Logan, Hong Liu and Stephen Grot recently won a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award for their work on microbe-driven fuel cells.

This research was supported by NSF Award #0401885:
Improving Power Generation in Microbial Fuel Cells

Additional Award information
The recent innovation builds upon an NSF Small Grant for Exploratory Research (SGER). For 15 years, NSF has made a small number of SGER grants--each for 1 to 2 years duration and for amounts up to $200,000--that address especially novel, or urgent, research ideas. Logan credits his SGER award with providing a critical spark that helped drive his microbial fuel-cell research.

The SGER research generated an earlier NSF press release, and an animation of the bio-filtration device. Both can be found at:

NSF Award #0331824:
SGER: Determination of the Potential for Direct Generation of Electricity from Wastewater Using a Microbial Fuel Cell


Media Contacts
Joshua A. Chamot, NSF, (703) 292-7730, email:
Andrea Messer, Pennsylvania State University, (814) 865-9481, email:

Program Contacts
Thomas D. Waite, NSF, (703) 292-7499, email:

Principal Investigators
Bruce Logan, Pennsylvania State University, (814) 863-7908, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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