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article imagePenn State University fart machine takes aim at energy

By KJ Mullins     Apr 24, 2009 in Science
Could farts save the planet? A new electrical farting machine out of Pennsylvania State University could help turn CO2 in the atmosphere into methane.
The machine takes an indirect approach at combating global warming since both CO2 and methane are greenhouse gases. What is could do is help store alternative energies like wind and solar better.
Bruce Logan,Director, Hydrogen Energy (H2E)Center, Hydrogen Energy (H2E) Center, College of Engineering, and his team have worked on the project that takes small jolts of electricity are given to single-celled microorganisms known as archea. This prompts the cells to remove CO2 for the air and turn it in to methane. The methane is then released as tiny "farts." The methane can then be used to power fuel cells or store the electrical energy chemically until its needed.
MSNBC reports:
"We found that we can directly convert electrical current into methane using a very specific microorganism," said Bruce Logan, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, who details his discovery in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
We envision this as a way to store electrical energy, to convert electricity into a biofuel," he said.
Archea are older than bacteria. They do not have a nucleus and other cell material. Most of archea remain a mystery to scientists but the ones that produce methane ,methanogens, are well known to researchers. These methanogens help decompose organic matter.
Researchers are hoping to use methanogens to create microbial fuel cells. This is where Logan's team found Methanobacterium palustre, the electricity-drinking, methane-emitting archea, clustered around the cathode.
Bacteria is alive and productive in the natural environment. They emit electrons that archea use as fuel. Archea are powerhorses, able to be 80 percent efficient at conserving the chemical bonds of methane. Logan's team wants to use the methanogen to store energy that comes from intermittent power sources like the wind, sun and water.
MSNBC reports:
"How big a battery do you have?" answered Logan. It would take a large, expensive battery to store all that electricity. A fuel cell would be an easier and cheaper way to store and transport it.
More about Pennsylvania state university, Fart machine, Global warming
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