Transporting methane through gas wellheads to market provides multiple opportunities because of This particular greenhouse gas to leak into the atmosphere. right now, an international team of researchers has taken the first step in converting methane directly to electricity using bacteria, in a way of which could be done near the drilling sites.
“Currently, we have to ship methane via pipelines,” said Thomas K. Wood, holder of the biotechnology endowed chair in addition to professor of chemical engineering, Penn State. “When you ship methane, you Discharge a greenhouse gas. We can’t eliminate all the leakage, yet we could cut the item in half if we didn’t ship the item via pipe long distances.”
The researchers’ goal can be to use microbial fuel cells to convert methane into electricity near the wellheads, eliminating long-distance transport. of which goal can be still far from the future, yet they right now have created a bacteria-powered fuel cell of which can convert the methane into smaller amounts of electricity.
“People have tried for decades to directly convert methane,” said Wood. “yet they haven’t been able to do the item with microbial fuel cells. We’ve engineered a strain of bacteria of which can.”
Microbial fuel cells convert chemical energy to electrical energy using microorganisms. They can run on most organic material, including wastewater, acetate in addition to brewing waste. Methane, however, causes some problems for microbial fuel cells because, while there are bacteria of which consume methane, they live from the depths of the ocean in addition to are not currently culturable from the laboratory.
“We know of a bacterium of which can produce an energy enzyme of which grabs methane,” said Wood. “We can’t grow them in captivity, yet we looked at the DNA in addition to found something through the bottom of the Black Sea in addition to synthesized the item.”
The researchers actually created a consortium of bacteria of which produces electricity because each bacterium does its portion of the job. Using synthetic biological approaches, including DNA cloning, the researchers created a bacterium like those from the depths of the Black Sea, yet one they can grow from the laboratory. This particular bacterium uses methane in addition to produces acetate, electrons in addition to the energy enzyme of which grabs electrons. The researchers also added a mixture of bacteria found in sludge through an anaerobic digester—the last step in waste treatment. This particular sludge contains bacteria of which produce compounds of which can transport electrons to an electrode, yet these bacteria needed to be acclimated to methane to survive from the fuel cell. They report the results of their work today (May 17) in Nature Communications.
“We need electron shuttles in This particular process,” said Wood. “Bacteria in sludge act as those shuttles.”
Once electrons reach an electrode, the flow of electrons produces electricity. to raise the amount of electricity produced, the researchers used a naturally occurring bacterial genus—Geobacter, which consumes the acetate created by the synthetic bacteria of which captures methane to produce electrons.
To show of which an electron shuttle was necessary, the researchers ran the fuel cell with only the synthetic bacteria in addition to Geobacter. The fuel cell produced no electricity. They added humic acids—a non-living electron shuttle—in addition to the fuel cells worked. Bacteria through the sludge are better shuttles than humic acids because they are self-sustaining. The researchers have filed provisional patents on This particular process.
“This particular process makes a lot of electricity for a microbial fuel cell,” said Wood. “However, at This particular point of which amount can be 1,000 times less than the electricity produced by a methanol fuel cell.”
The study can be published in Nature Communications.