Cellulose is everywhere in the plant world and contains tremendous amounts of untapped energy. The problem is the long chains of sugars that make up cellulose is tough to break apart, something well known to ethanol researchers. Fuel cells are able to harness chemical reactions to release electrons that can be used as a power source. While hydrogen is the best known input for fuel cells it is by no means the only one.
Researchers at Penn State University are developing a microbial fuel cell that consumes cellulose and generates electricity. They are doing this by combining two types of bacteria, one that can break down the cellulose into simpler sugars and ferment it and another that takes the fermented product and generates electricity. Unfortunately the two chamber design that is required to make this work results in very low power density currently at 150 mW per square meter. The team is looking for ways to improve on this.

[Source: Penn State University]

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