Soil-powered fuel cell promises cheap, sustainable water purification

Soil microbial fuel cells as designed by researchers at the University of Bath. Credit: University of Bath

Engineers at the University of Bath have shown that it’s possible to capture and use energy created by the natural reactions occurring in microorganisms within soil.

A team of chemical and electrical engineers has demonstrated the potential of cheap, simple “soil microbial fuel cells” (SMFCs), buried in the earth to power an electrochemical reactor that purifies water.

The proof-of-concept design was demonstrated during field testing in North-East Brazil that took place in 2019 and showed that SMFCs can purify about three litres of water per day — enough to cover a person’s daily water needs.

The project is a collaboration with a team of geographers from Universidade Federal do Ceará and a team of chemists from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte.

Testing took place in Icapuí, a fishing village located in a remote semi-arid location where the main source of drinking water is rainwater and access to a reliable power network is scarce.

Rainwater must be chlorinated to be drinkable, and in addition to causing bad taste and odour, uncontrolled chlorination is dangerous to human health—so safe methods to […]