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Oz boffins unleash the power of beer

2kW microbial fuel cell to run on brewing waste

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Australian boffins from the University of Queensland have teamed up with beer outfit Foster's to power up a "battery" by brewing waste, Associated Press reports.

The scientists yesterday unveiled the experimental microbial fuel cell at Foster's Yatala brewery near Brisbane. The "complex technology" involved feeds alcohol, starch, and sugar to bacteria which, while enjoying their liquid lunch, produce chemical energy which is converted into electrical output. The cell also produces clean water and "renewable (non-polluting) carbon dioxide".

Professor Jurg Keller, of the university's Advanced Wastewater Management Centre (AWMC) said: "Brewery waste water is a particularly good source because it is very biodegradable...and is highly concentrated, which does help in improving the performance of the cell."

The small-scale prototype has been running at the uni's lab for three months, and the plan now is to produce a full-scale, 660 gallon model with an output of 2kW, due for operational deployment in September. Keller added: "It's not going to make an enormous amount of power - it's primarily a waste water treatment that has the added benefit of creating electricity."

The technology has been developed in association with the University of Ghent, Belgium, backed by a AU$1.3m grant from the Australian Research Council Discovery, AU$140,000 from the Queensland Government's Sustainable Energy Innovation Fund, and further financial support from Foster's.

The researchers hope the fuel cell "could be used across a number of food, beverage, and manufacturing industries". AWMC postdoctoral research fellow Dr Korneel Rabaey said: "Energy and water supply are among the biggest challenges we will face in the coming decades. Therefore, we must learn how to diversify our portfolio of fuels - and we must learn to reduce our energy and water usage." ®

Bootnote

We'll save you the trouble of adding the wisecracks. For the record, the average Reg hack consumes around 10 pints of beer a day, producing a continuous average of 1.5kW of heat energy during the work cycle. We're currently working on a system which will substantially reduce our carbon footprint by using the energy output of the Vulture Central Strategy Boutique after a particularly robust wine-bar-based lunchtime brainstorming session to power the email servers. Expect patent applications shortly.

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