Phytoplankton Power ! - Hybrid Microbial Fuel Cell

Turn home wastes like food scraps into sustainable electricity production. Using Anaerobic Nitrifying bacteria, Photoplankton and the sun!

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I am entering this project in the efforts to earn college money and make the DIY world a better cleaner place.
This project focuses on electrical energy production from a self sustaining combination of waste food biomass ( like composting) , phytoplankton photosynthesis and anaerobic nitrifying bacteria. The Plankton does need both food ,CO2 and sunlight to produce free electrons that may be harvested by my device. I realized that there is no reason this Nitrate cycle cannot be used to feed phytoplankton that can be harvested while still alive to produce electricity! In a home there is no shortage of organic food or waste that can fuel the anaerobic reaction which in turn supports the photosynthetic energy production. Plankton also store energy inside their chloroplasts to continue production during the respiration cycle over night.

How does it work in layman terms?

The version 1 fuel cell takes advantage of salt bridge principles that allow ions to be exchanged from cathode to anode without directly touching. As green micro algae absorbs co2 and sunlight, it releases oxygen as ions in the water. The other side of the half cell is where the bacteria rich waste water is pumped through. the bacteria that grows on the inside of the cell and the anode absorb oxygen as part of their life cycle and breaking down food into nitrates. When the bacteria absorb the oxygen they also respirate CO2, which the green algae absorbs as well. The respiration does not work well through the salt bridge , but that is where version 2 comes in with a semi permeable membrane of cellophane that allows co2 and oxygen to exchange through the half cells carrying ions with them that encourage the electrical output from the electrodes.

version 1 Bacteria Algae reactor 156 shapes.stl

all 24 cells together for oxygen co2 resperation, cells piped to resevoir and small pump in those resevoirs. white is bacteria load and green is algae load

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 7.30 MB - 07/14/2018 at 16:05


U tube.stl

This is the U shaped salt bridge, I printed at low quality but may not be water proof, for best results print this peice on your finest settings with no supports, add a brim.

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 25.08 kB - 07/11/2018 at 13:53


1st try bio reactor.stl

no supports, print upright.

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 2.23 kB - 07/11/2018 at 13:53


hollow electrode bioreactor.stl

A hollowed out version of the electrode tube so it will print faster and use less filament.

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 18.73 kB - 07/11/2018 at 13:53


electrode tube bioreactor.stl

solid with infil tube, easier to waterproof ,but uses more print time and filament.

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 13.17 kB - 07/11/2018 at 13:53


  • 2 × Robo 3d R1 printer
  • 4 × Hatchbox Pla 1.75mm rolls
  • 1 × knox Gelatin unflavored
  • 1 × Common Salts
  • 1 × Plastic resin Alumnilite for coating , sealing and waterproofing the 3d printed parts

View all 16 components

  • Inexpensive Proton Exchange Membranes

    Josh Starnes08/10/2018 at 19:38 0 comments

    Here is a research update for the project -  super info cabon as electrode material

    increasing surface area = increase mah output

    terra cotta as a pem, it looks promising BUT there are many details that are not avail to do this as a DIY home project and in the efforts of OPEN and DIY I will stick with more avail materials

    Study on Agar as a electolytic / PEM

    A BI POLAR membrane,  two membranes in dual chamber with center transitional chamber

  • Hacking Low Cost Ceramic for Membranes in Fuel cells

    Josh Starnes08/04/2018 at 22:13 0 comments

    So I have been doing a bit of reading on various materials. There have been studies conducted on earthenware membranes.  This was a clever suggestion from Mechanicus. Terra Cotta is one of these. Though I could spend lots of money on custom made film membranes, in the spirit of hackaday I need to HACK something that is both common , repeatable and effective. I believe earth based/ clay membranes would be much better as the cost is less than 10 percent that of a designer membrane from somewhere like for example.

    36 dollars plus tax for 11 sq ft of  PEM / Cation Membrane material is a fantastically priced over the designer films good article related to my setup

  • Tiny update, Researching the next cell design

    Josh Starnes08/01/2018 at 13:17 0 comments

    No building or design as been done at this time while another collaborator and myself research the logical next steps. We are coming up with options for Proton Exchange membranes. Namely what we would like to so is have a membrane that satisfies more than on need or a system that takes advantage of CO2 creating bacteria to feed the requirements of the micro algae on the other side of a cell. Some research must be done to determine is the electrode itself must be in plain view of light.

  • 3 weeks Algae Growth

    Josh Starnes07/27/2018 at 01:19 0 comments

    A picture  doesn’t do it justice because my phone keeps raising the contrast of the picture thinking it is too dark when the algae is centered in the frame. Without this significant brightness increase you can’t see the tubes inside the liquid. Shortly I will get a second Algae Container and Split the current sample I have so I can make a bigger setup in the future for version 2 of the semi permeable membrane upgrade to the design.

  • researching phase two, Permeable membrane use

    Josh Starnes07/24/2018 at 22:48 0 comments

    Microbial fuel cell is the promising technology for clean power
    generation and has gained lot of attention in recent years. Нe algae
    obtained aіer MFC utilization can be further used for the production
    of biodiesel, green diesel or bioethanol [1,2]. Complete utilization of
    biomass is important for the transition to biofuels and bioeconomy [3].
    Microbial fuel cell (MFC) consists of an anodic and a cathodic
    chamber, separated by a proton exchange membrane (PEM). At anode,
    organic compounds are oxidized by the microorganisms and electrons
    move towards cathode through an external circuit and combine with
    an electron acceptor (mainly oxygen) to generate electricity. At
    cathode, oxygen is supplied continuously by aeration which is an
    energy consuming process. In MFCs, mediators can accelerate the
    process of electron transfer [4]. Recently, the concepts of MFCs have
    been extended into dLوٴerent technologies such as Bio-Electrochemical
    Systems (BESs) which produce numerous useful products such as
    formate, [5] methane [6] and acetate [7]. Нe microbial desalination
    cell is the most attractive option as this can be successfully
    implemented for power generation, treatment of wastewater with the
    simultaneous desalination of water [8]. MFCs can be used for the
    production of hydrogen gas [9], powering environmental sensors and
    digital wrist watch, charging a mobile phone, smartphone and LEDs
    [10-13]. MFCs are also coupled with solar cells for power production
    [14] which provides opportunities for utilizing solar energy in this
    field. Future applications of MFCs may include their use in human
    systems as well.
    Utilization of microalgae in MFCs has gained interest as
    phototrophic microalgae act as biocatholytes as the oxygen produced
    by them serves as final electron acceptor, minimizing the energy
    needed for the aeration at the cathode. Earlier work from author's
    laboratory was reported on the H2 production from algae and its
    utilization in carbon fuel cells for power generation [15]. Later work
    involved the studies of the potential of power generation from algal
    MFCs [2]. In the present study, potential of two strains of a green
    colonial hydrocarbon (petroleum oil) rich microalga, Boryococcus
    braunii, has been analyzed for its application in MFCs while
    generating biomass for oil production. In these MFCs, green algal
    strains have been used at the cathode as the source of photosynthetic
    oxygen as electron acceptor, whereas sugar industry wastewater with
    activated sludge, S. cerevisiae culture alone and S. cerevisiae with
    supplementation of methylene blue (350 mg/L) was used at the anode.
    НLs technology has great potential to couple the algal and yeast
    biomass cultivation for the oil and bioethanol production, respectively,
    along with wastewater treatment and power generation. Algal biomass
    obtained from MFCs may be used for the production of biodiesel and
    for bioethanol production through hydroliquefaction. 

    Materials and Methods
    Experimental organisms
    Two strains of B. braunii, Udaisagar strain from Udaisagar lake,
    Udaipur Rajasthan, India and Loktak strain from Loktak lake,
    Manipur, India, were isolated by serial dilution method and plating on
    the solLdLfied Chu-13 medium [16] which were grown and maintained
    under controlled conditions in an incubator. Saccharomyces cerevisae
    (Bakers's yeast), obtained from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi,
    New Delhi, India was revived by adding 1.3 gm yeast powder in 1 L
    Sayed et al. medium [17] for 16 h at 27°C temperature in dark.
    MFC design and operation
    Нe MFC contained two chambers, an anode and a cathode, each of
    250 ml capacity with 6.5 cm diameter and 12 cm length and with
    electrode area of approximately 30 cm2
    . Both the electrodes were made
    up of carbon and separated by a proton exchange membrane (1afion).
    A digital multimeter (Haqyue) was connected...

    Read more »

  • Test unit charging a phone!

    Josh Starnes07/16/2018 at 15:39 0 comments

    There are 8 cells I setup as proof of concept. I still needed more materials and cellophane as a permeable membrane to allow ions and oxygen CO2 exchange between half cells. When I qualify for the next round I will upgrade the setup with more appropriate materials and stuff

  • Algae Cultivation at 9 days and ready to res-pirate

    Josh Starnes07/14/2018 at 19:13 0 comments

    The algae is getting darker, almost too dark to see even the air hoses or pump inside. Another day and it will be pumping through the microbial fuel cell setup. :)

  • 24 Cells Plumbed Bacteria / Algae Respirator

    Josh Starnes07/14/2018 at 16:28 0 comments

    This is the actual setup I plan on building tomorrow on my day off so it can be demonstrated on video for the hackaday project submission.  This is version 1. Version 2 will use a Selectively permeable membrane to allow the electrons and oxygen / Co2 exchange through the membrane only carrying the ions from cathode to the anode.

  • salt bridge test 1.7 volts, Yeah !!

    Josh Starnes07/13/2018 at 15:13 0 comments

    Testing out the gel salt bridge , it functioned great but then the gell started melting. Sad times. I may do a rope . fabric salt bridge as a replacement. 1.7 volts while the salt bridge was intact. :)

  • Comparison My Cell versus Their Cell

    Josh Starnes07/13/2018 at 15:10 0 comments

    Not my video , but I wanted a direct comparison to other types of microbial fuel cells out there. This little guy produces .200 volts or 200 mv , which is not enough to power much as far as voltage goes , but if he made several cells and scaled them he could power an led perhaps. SO FAR with only a half cell we are getting 5 times with microbial cells voltage. When I tested both cells with a salt bridge I get 1.7 volts which is 8-9 times the voltage. Also the amount of volume required is about 1/10 this , so that could be a good thing.

View all 31 project logs

Enjoy this project?



Josh Starnes wrote 07/16/2018 at 15:36 point

got a phone charging on it !

  Are you sure? yes | no

Josh Starnes wrote 07/13/2018 at 13:24 point

Yeah I will power some leds or something low power, this is a small setup so it does not produce much. I have a dc to dc converter to power usb device.

  Are you sure? yes | no

xor wrote 07/11/2018 at 17:57 point

Add some output ;)

for example small arduino working on this, or everything else.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Josh Starnes wrote 06/28/2018 at 12:22 point

Hello, yes I read about it after your recommendation, I dont think it will be something I use in this project , but thanks for the info.

  Are you sure? yes | no

ohmohm wrote 06/25/2018 at 15:05 point

I recommend to read about “Winogradsky column” too.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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