Electricity from Dirt: Is it Possible?
It turns out wind power, solar power and lunar power are not the only possible renewable energy sources for our future. Dirt power might be next. There are already plans for use of it in places of Africa that are off-grid.
We first heard of dirt power back in May of 2008. Six Harvard University students (a.k.a known as Lebônê) won a $200,000 grant from World Bank at the Lighting Africa 2008 event in Accra, Ghana for inventing a way to turn soil into electricity using microbial fuel cells. Read the press release here .
The soil isn't really turned into electricity per say, instead an anode and cathode are placed in the ground. (Find anode and cathode definition here and here.) Dirt is then placed on top of the anode and cathode and this is all connected to circuit board that charges a battery. The battery is charged and is then strong enough to provide a few hours of lighting. "A cubic metre of organic matter will generate only enough energy to light one high-efficiency LED light" (IPS).
To charge the battery activity from soil microbes (bacteria or fungi) break down organic matter generating electricity. It isn't much electricity, it can power as mentioned before, a few hours of lighting, a radio, a cell phone, etc., but in some parts of Africa, where electricity is not available an inexpensive source like this, which can be made cheaply out of recyclable material, can prove very useful.
The ultimate goal back in May was to contribute to the mission to produce "low-cost green energy to 250 million people across Africa" in about 3 years time. The goal hasn't changed, but since their winnings back in May, Lebônê, now Lebônê Solutions, Inc. has taken it to the next level. Recently the team completed a pilot study in Tanzania. Here residents where taught how to use basic microbial fuel cells. The residents took interest and the study went well.
The next study will begin in December in Namibia. Here Lebônê Solutions, Inc. plans to use a new fuel cell design "with conventional high-efficiency LED lights". Funded by the World Bank they will begin by creating one hundred fuel cells, but hope to make thousands.
To keep up to date with Lebônê Solutions, Inc. visit the Lebônê website.