how to Microbial Fuel Cells – new technology for energy generation

The continuous progress of science has led to the discovery that bacteria can directly produce electricity, degrading organic substances dissolved in natural environments, e.g. sea water, river, lake or wastewater treatment plants of municipal wastewater or agro- food and soil contaminated by heavy metals or organics.


Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are a new and exciting area in biotechnology which have operational and functional advantages over the technologies current used for generating energy from organic matter. They allow to convert energy, available in bio-convertible substrate, directly into electricity with the aid of microorganisms. MFCs operate efficiently at ambient, and even at low, temperatures distinguishing them from most of all current bio-energy processes. An MFC does not require gas treatment because the off-gases of MFCs are enriched in carbon dioxide and normally have no useful energy content. Furthermore MFCs have potential for widespread application in locations lacking electrical infrastructures and also to expand the diversity of fuels we use to satisfy our energy requirements. A typical MFC consists of an anode and a cathode compartment where in the anode compartment a substrate is oxidized, by microorganisms activity while in the cathode compartment an electron acceptor is reduced.

The Microbial fuel cells (MFCs), for the energy feeding of sensors on autonomous underwater vehicles

The technology being developed by the following consortium Polytechnic of Turin, Italian Institute of Technology and Smart Manufacturing Lab, will increase the operating persistence of AUVs (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles), getting electricity directly from seawater.

It ‘been successfully completed a first phase of tests and evaluations at the Center for Naval Support and Experimentation (CSSN) of La Spezia the laying of the network of Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) miniaturized, bioelettrochimici systems developed by Italian researchers (Politecnico Torino , IIT, SMLab) in collaboration with the central American SPAWAR (Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command) thanks to a memorandum of understanding signed with SEGREDIFESA, capable of generating electricity by exploiting the metabolism of aquatic microorganisms.


To date, the majority of AUVs are powered by rechargeable ion batteries or lithium polymer, nickel-metal hydride batteries, fuel cells based on aluminum, etc., That may require substantial maintenance and costly refills, moreover producing waste products that They must be managed safely. The MFC in microbial fuel cells are devices that generate electricity by directly converting the chemical energy of organic substrates naturally present in sea water into electricity. A typical MFC consists of an anode and a cathode electrically connected. Inside the anode an organic substrate is oxidized by the bacteria, while the cathode is the electron acceptor. The electrons produced by oxidation of the organic substrate anode thus generate electricity. Taking advantage of the sea water “nutritional” properties can potentially act as a perpetual source of electrical energy, with the possibility of obtaining a long electrical autonomy time.


The MFC network installed at the CSSN is under continuous instrumental control of the obtained performance. ultimate goal is to define the potential of this technology and demonstrate its use is mainly for fixed monitoring stations on both diving AUVs. The latter application, the strong interest in the CSSN, would improve the operating conditions of vehicles, making possible the autonomous generation of electricity by the vehicle, which can be used to power its low-consumption operating sensors.

The trial, conducted by the consortium made up of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Turin – Department of Applied Science and Technology (, Italian Institute of Technology – Turin ( and Smart Manufacturing Lab (, falls within the National Plan of the Military Research (PNRM) with the name of MUES – Microbial fuel cells as power Enablers for Underwater Sensors. The activity was carried out in collaboration with the staff of the Support and Experimentation Centre Naval Navy (CSSN), and falls within the line of research “Endurance AUV & Persistance” the joint laboratory CSSN-ISME “Sealab” for the study and experimenting with innovative autonomous vehicles.

The reseach program will be complete on 2018.