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September 21, 2014 | Tom Ballard

ORNL Invention to Innovation Webinar 6: Microbial Electrolysis

ORNL_outline(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the next in a series of webinars that Oak Ridge National Laboratory is hosting to provide overviews of various inventions and highlights of specific commercial opportunities approaching market readiness.  Each webinar concludes with a roundtable session for Q&A and market feedback.)


Featured Technology: Microbial Electrolysis for Renewable Hydrogen

September 24, 2014 at 2 p.m. EDT

View complete fact sheet here. |  Register here

Driven by the goal of reducing fossil fuel use and pollution, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL’s) clean energy research plays a pivotal role in America’s energy future.  ORNL scientists and engineers are applying the knowledge they gain from these studies to develop and deploy real-world solutions for energy security and protecting the environment.  From exploring the genetics of poplar trees for use in biofuel production to uncovering the potential for using byproducts of this process in advanced materials for automotive and wind technologies, clean energy research spans ORNL disciplines including biological and environmental sciences, advanced materials, neutron sciences, nuclear sciences, and high-performance computing, and brings multidisciplinary teams together to address key issues.

One area of research at ORNL has developed microbial fuel cells to generate electricity by harvesting the electrons produced by specialized bacteria that grow in a film on the negative electrode.  The bacteria are nourished by waterborne organic compounds and produce carbon dioxide, free electrons, and hydrogen ions.  The ORNL research focused on solving the problems inherent in cost-effectively applying microbial cells to treatment systems for wastewater streams (e.g., optimizing the electrochemically active biofilms for energy production while digesting the complex, inhibitory, and toxic contaminants found in wastewaters).

This bioelectrochemical device developed at ORNL is intended primarily as an online component in the treatment systems for process water from the petroleum and biofuels industries.  It can be configured either as a fuel cell, which produces electricity, or as an electrolytic cell, which produces hydrogen gas.  Both products can be used to power other devices.  The bioelectrochemical device can also be configured so that its electrodes scavenge salts and other inorganic compounds found in wastewater streams.  Currently the technology is being refined to produce energy more efficiently by minimizing losses to competing biochemical processes.


Nestor Franco, Commercialization Manager Abhijeet Borole, Senior Research Scientist

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