Amazing Green Technologies from Bacteria
If the world’s ecosystem was a theatrical play, microorganisms would most likely take the role of the supporting member, in charge of adjusting the elements of the entire set, rather than taking part in the play itself. In other words, bacteria may not be contributing to any internal part of any biological cycle on the surface, but they sure are important in driving these cycles to make them actually happen.
Is it surprising that many of the most important fundamental “backdrop” natural processes, like biotic decomposition, are taken care of by bacteria? Of course, all of these amazing natural synthesizing capabilities are already well noted by scientists. In fact, there are many green technologies that actually use the aid of these tiny but very fascinating supporting members of the world’s ecological theater.
Bacteria based Solar Cells
One of the important areas in solar cell development research today is to improve efficiency with the use of both inorganic and organic semiconductors, or the fabrication of an economically viable hybrid solar cell. While there are many types of hybrid solar cells, there is one particular type that seems a lot more “organic” than others. This bacteria based dye-sensitized solar cell uses a harmless strain of the Mycobacterium smegmatis bacteria to synthesize a specific type of protein, which is then mixed to the dye solution coating of the solar cell.
In addition to this indirect approach of using bacteria for a solar cell design, there also seems to be growing interest in directly using purple photosynthetic bacteria for a solar cell design as well.
Electrolyzers Operated by Bacteria
Energy quality degradation isn’t actually the only problem in creating hydrogen fuels. It’s also the economical issues that entail this drawback that makes hydrogen fuel cell technology look very inferior compared to other more “straightforward” alternative energy sources. Scientists from Pennsylvania State University however, have discovered a way to possibly reduce these negative points and make hydrogen easier and cheaper, by using special bacteria that can split water molecules. These microbes actually need a little pushing energy to start working, but researchers were able to solve this problem by manipulating water salinity to create an electric charge.
The current focus of this bacterial energy research is to find an efficient replacement for the very expensive platinum-based cathode of the microbial electrolyzer.
Bacteria that Eats Plastic
Although plastics are technically termed as organic (carbon-based) synthetic solids, we all know that they are not easily synthesized by bacteria for decomposition. This does not mean that a strain of bacteria that could synthesize plastic does not exist however, because apparently there is a unique type of bacteria that could eat plastic for its daily meal. This critter, the Pseudomonas putida, was already discovered since the early 1900′s, but it only during this era that scientists realized its precious value in our plastic-littered world.
For the moment, scientists were only able to make it eat polystyrene, by heating the plastic, and then giving the bacteria headway to synthesize it into the biodegradable PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate) plastic.
One good reason why bacteria can have such great applications in green technology is that they could “manufacture” at a scale and level where complex organisms normally couldn’t. They excel in terms of efficiency because they only synthesize what their body systems really need, and also excel in terms of variability due to the near-infinite number of ways that they could process some of the materials and elements that we usually use in our modern world.
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