Cow stomach fluid powers fuel cells 2007-08-30 17:30:55   Print

    BEIJING, Aug. 30 (Xinhuanet) -- Scientists looking for an alternative to corn as an ethanol fuel source have discovered fluid from the largest chamber of a cow's stomach could be the answer to a new kind of fuel cell, recent research reveals.

    Electricity is generated in the new fuel cells by breaking down cellulose, which can be found in waste paper, other wood products and in the corn leaves and stalks that farms produce after a harvest. The fluid found in a cow's rumen is rich in microbes that break down cellulose.

    "Energy is produced as the bacteria break down cellulose, which is one of the most abundant resources on our planet," said study team leader Hamid Rismani-Yazdi, a graduate student at Ohio State University.

    Fuel cells -- like batteries -- are energy conversion devices, except they consume a reactant that must be replenished, whereas batteries store electrical energy chemically in a closed system. Various fuels can be used, including hydrogen, hydrocarbons and alcohols.

    The new fuel cell contains two compartments, one of which is filled with cellulose and rumen fluid. As the microbes break down the cellulose, electrons are created, which flow into the other chamber of the fuel cell, producing an electric current.

    The fuel cells Rismani-Yazdi and his team created are a refinement from an original model they created two years ago. The new fuel cells are a quarter of the size of their original model and can produce about three times the power two of the cells can create enough electricity to recharge a AA-sized battery, whereas it took four of the older generation of fuel cells to do this.

    "The power output of these fuel cells is sustainable indefinitely as long as we keep feeding the bacteria with cellulose," said study team member Ann Christy, also of Ohio State. "We ran these cells for three months."


Editor: Gareth Dodd
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