Investigating the use of Microbial Fuel Cells in Microgravity
Principal Investigator: Donald Platt
Florida Tech Microbial Research Group
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are a promising field of earth bound research with considerable potential for use on long durational spaceflight. MFCs work much like a conventional fuel cell; however, MFCs use the natural metabolism of bacteria to provide hydrogen ions for a conventional fuel cell reaction. The natural metabolic processes of the bacteria consume mediums such as waste water and produce purified water as a natural by-product. Long durational spaceflight resources are always at a premium, especially when it comes to water and power. If MFCs could be used onboard long durational spaceflights, some of the heavy demand for fresh water and electricity could be alleviated. A team from Florida Institute of Technology and Micro Aerospace Solutions has been exploring the use of MFC batteries for space flight for over two years. The team has determined the first step to developing MFCs for use in space is to test the survivability of a very particular strand of bacteria known to yield electric current in an MFC. The team has designed a relatively inexpensive experiment to quantitatively determine the survivability and robustness of the bacteria’s metabolism in microgravity. The team is now moving into the production phase of its experiment, and is in the process of manufacturing flight hardware. Commercial development of MFC batteries for human space flight could become a reality as soon as MFC bacteria is tested in microgravity.