Ching-Ching Liu is spending the summer at IIT Kharagpur.

July 5, 2011

I’ve been at IIT Kharagpur for just over two weeks now working with a graduate student on microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that basically treat wastewater while producing electricity. It’s a system that serves as an alternative to anaerobic digestion while also playing a role in the alternative energy movement. The dual purpose is exciting as it covers both career fields I’m considering at the moment. For the initial part of these weeks, I spent a lot of time researching the background of MFCs, reading journal articles and getting a more comprehensive idea on what I’m working on. Now that the experiment has started, with its fair share of errors and readjustments, we’ve been collecting data and doing analysis. The specific model in this experiment has to do with earthenware pots as part of a low cost design that might be useful commercially in the future but since MFCs are a relatively new field, there’s still a lot to be done. We have to think about how these models will perform on a large, industrial scale, how long they will last and whether they will provide enough power to be useful. Also, the experiments now show that the models aren’t that efficient yet so they’ll need more improvements.

There’s highly unlikely that these MFCs will be able to power homes or be a significant source of energy harvesting (like I thought when I first signed up for this) but they definitely have to capability to reduce the energy usage and greenhouse emissions of wastewater plants that expend a lot of energy to make our waters clean. Though this is an exciting new development, progress is slow.  I never realized how careful and thorough this field of research must be in order to have enough grounds to advertise MFCs to the public as an economically and environmentally strong candidate in wastewater treatment. The earthenware model is just one out of many MFC types that are being studied right now but what is so interesting about it is how much cheaper and reusable it can be to other MFC models. I’m excited to see how this experiment and my time here working on it will contribute to the development of MFCs.