Microorganisms in energy generation

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Microorganisms are used in fermentation to produce ethanol and in bio gas reactors to produce methane.

Scientists are researching the use of algae to produce liquid fuels, and bacteria to help convert various forms of agricultural and urban waste into fuels. Bacteria with tiny wire-like appendages called nanowires digest toxic waste (including PCBs and chemical solvents) to produce electricity.

One type in particular, called Shewanella, is a deep-sea bacteria that grows these oxygen-seeking nanowires when placed in low-oxygen environments. Researchers discovered that when the microbes’ nanowires are pricked with platinum electrodes, they can carry a current. If these capabilities can be harnessed effectively, they could one day be used in sewage treatment plants to simultaneously digest waste and power the facilities

Oil spillage and radioactive contamination : Certain types of bacteria can clean up troublesome environmental pollutants like spilled petroleum. According to Steph,a specific strain called Alcanivorax drastically increases in population when an oil spill provides them with large amounts their nutrients, such that they are able to remove much of the oil (for instance, at Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico).

The nanowires grown by certain types of bacteria can also be used to immobilize harmful materials –like uranium – and keep them from spreading. A research team at Michigan State University has learned that bacteria, which is found naturally in soil, essentially electroplates uranium, rendering it insoluble so it cannot dissolve and contaminate groundwater.

These bacteria can be brought into uranium contamination sites like mines and nuclear plants in order to contain the radiation, potentially limiting the disastrous consequences of these types of spills.