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Development of a Bacterial Fuel Cell

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Sustainability and Hands-On Activities

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

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Paul F. Penko P.E. Baldwin Wallace University

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Paul F. Penko, Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor, Baldwin Wallace University, Physics Department.

2005-10: Adjunct Professor, Ohio State University, Aerospace Engineering Department.

1969-2005: Aerospace Engineer, NASA Glenn Research Center.

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Development of a Bacterial Fuel Cell

Nathan J. Onchuck Alyssa A. Grygiel Callie Ann Jakuszeit Paul F. Penko, Faculty Advisor Baldwin Wallace University

The goal of this project is to develop a working fuel cell that uses bacteria to decompose organic material producing hydrogen ions that combine with oxygen ions in air to produce electrical power. To date, a small laboratory unit has been constructed whereby E. coli bacteria was incubated in a 2 liter solution of lauryl tryptose broth and inserted in the cell. Voltage and current were measured for a period of 210 minutes with bacterial concentrations measured at beginning and end of the test period. At the end of the test period, a voltage of 98 mV, current of 26 μA and a bacterial concentration of 5.0x107 cfu/ml were measured. The fuel cell is constructed of 6-inch diameter PVC pipe about 12-inches in length with a carbon-cloth anode and cathode and a Nafion proton-exchange membrane. In this design, the cathode is exposed to open air and sits against the Nafion membrane that is exposed to the bacterial solution, where the anode is immersed in the solution along the inner diameter of the PVC pipe. Further tests are planned for the current school year with a goal of increasing power output by constructing more cells and connecting them in series and parallel. Testing other strains of bacteria will also be attempted and possibly testing of a larger unit in a still pond with naturally-present bacteria.


Penko, P. F. (2017, June), Development of a Bacterial Fuel Cell Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28158

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