Voltage, power, and energy production of a Shewanella oneidensis biofilm microbial fuel cell in microgravity

(1) Valley Christian High School

Cover photo for Voltage, power, and energy production of a <i>Shewanella oneidensis</i> biofilm microbial fuel cell in microgravity

Future long-term space travel requires both efficient waste management and renewable energy production to be feasible. One such option in addressing these issues is a microbial fuel cell (MFC) that converts chemical energy in organic matter to electrical energy through biological processes of microbes. Electroactive biofilms are special colonies of microbes that utilize an extracellular matrix to increase the endurance and growth of bacterial colonies through the sharing of resources and the depositing of electrons. We studied the power production of a biofilm MFC by testing the fuel cell in microgravity over time on the International Space Station (ISS). We utilized Shewanella oneidensis, an established electroactive biofilm, to break down a nutrient solution and release electrons and protons, producing a voltage difference across the cell. The S. onedensis biofilm grew more prolifically under low-pressure conditions, making it well suited for microgravity; consequently, the consumption of sodium lactate in a larger biofilm caused an increase in anaerobic respiration of the bacteria. This increased the voltage difference recorded across the cell and the corresponding power of the MFC. Our results are consistent with our hypothesis that there would be an increase in voltage and power production over time; however, an insufficient amount of growth medium eventually led to a decrease in voltage and power production as the biofilm died out. Power output during microgravity testing increased over time, coinciding with nutrient solution pump cycles. This experiment established that an MFC is a promising avenue for the development of renewable energy in microgravity.

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