Generator Design

Benthic Microbial Fuel Cells

Led by Jordon Beckler, Ph.D.
Affiliated Home Campus: Harbor Branch
Affiliated Department: Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute
In-Person or Remote project


Sediment microbial fuel cell “biobatteries” have been demonstrated to be a viable and field-proven solution for harnessing energy. Application examples include powering seafloor-moored devices such as oceanographic sensors (> 30 mW/m2 footprint area) or processes/sensors in wastewater treatment plants. Much ongoing research with in situ systems focuses on optimizing parameters to exploit the natural redox gradient between chemically reducing sediments and oxygenated overlying waters (e.g. anode/cathode construction), while simulated laboratory mesocosm fuel cell experiments are more focused on for optimizing microbial communities and sediment composition. This work is inherently interdisciplinary, exposing participants to alternative energy, electronics, oceanography, geochemistry, and microbiology.

The fundamental concept of “harvesting electricity from mud” using relatively simple concepts offers exciting opportunities for outreach far beyond the confines of university research. Last summer, we advanced designs and constructed simple, inexpensive sediment microbial fuel cells (see “2020 Projects and Participants” on this website). Additionally, underwater IoT watt meters were constructed to monitor fuel cell performance. This year, we propose to either 1) Advance the energy storage capabilities; 2) implement connectivity infrastructure, e.g. WiFi interfacing with a cloud server and uploading of this data in real time; 3) experiment with various fuel cell materials to advance performance, including the natural components (sediment or microbial inoculum); or 4) explore secondary effects of the fuel cells, e.g. the ability to degrade harmful organic contaminants such as harmful algal cells or toxins present in local sediments. Given the broad scope, we invite engineering (chemical/electrical/environmental/mechanical) or science (computer/chemistry/environmental) students to apply. Interns may also have the opportunity to participate in an oceanographic research expedition in the Gulf of Mexico.

HBOI ocean fish