Research project

Waste Made Useful by Microbial Fuel Cells for Energy Generation

Project overview

The world is facing some of the greatest challenges in terms of environmental welfare and energy supply. The latest EU directives on energy appliances dictate lower power consumption even on standby operation. At the forefront of publicity, Hollywood is driving towards greener movie productions. The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) has failed to commit the largest fossil fuel consumer nations in limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this there is still increased enthusiasm towards renewable energy production. This is clearly because fossil fuel combustion is costly and cutting back on carbon emissions is even more expensive; renewables on the other hand are freely available. A sustainable energy portfolio should include a range of carbon-neutral and renewable energy technologies. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) represent vitally developing technology for sustainable energy production and waste treatment. They convert chemical energy of feedstock into electricity by using micro-organisms, which act as biocatalysts. MFCs are still in their early stages of development but with great potential to bring about innovation and become true alternatives to fossil fuel energy generation. The applicant has already demonstrated world first results (EcoBots and small scale-multi unit efficiency improvements) in this multi-disciplinary technological area, demonstrating that he is leading the way globally both in research and application of MFCs. Interest from the scientific and industrial communities is rapidly increasing, leading to collaborations with wastewater treatment industry and robotics. Investment both in this pioneering applicant and this burgeoning area is ripe. MFCs offer advantages such as simultaneous waste clean-up and electricity production; this Fellowship therefore directly addresses national and international priorities. Current research in the field is showing that individual units are thermodynamically limited, producing relatively low energy output levels, emphasising the need for scale-up. The applicant was the first to demonstrate (see attached Publications list Nos. 2, 5, 13) that more efficient energy harvesting takes place in small-scale MFC units and thus there is a natural drive for miniaturisation and multiple-unit stack development. More importantly, it is becoming apparent amongst the international MFC community that one of the technology's bottlenecks is the cathodic half-cell, which can be significantly improved using micro-algae. In the field of sustainable energy production , this proposal will integrate three major areas: (i) Multi-MFC unit stack; (ii) Self-sustainable cathodes; (iii) Waste clean-up.This Fellowship will both consolidate research findings and break into new areas, enabling cross-fertilisation of research results and thereby achieving developments faster than consecutive research projects would allow. It will develop the career of the applicant as a world leading researcher and budding academic, as well as developing the research skills of the research team he will build around him. This is built on the solid foundation of research to date. The Fellow will continue to collaborate with his mentors, ensuring his personal career development plan can be realised, maximising his potential as a research leader.The long term Vision of this Fellowship is twofold; 1) to develop MFCs into a mature sustainable energy technology with a direct application in everyday life that could change the way people think about energy and human waste; 2) to develop a team of researchers skilled in multi-disciplinary approaches led by the applicant who is already at the forefront of this research area globally.


Lead researcher

Professor Yannis Ieropoulos PhD, MIET

Professor of Environmental Engineering

Research interests

  • Environmental Engineering;
  • Bioelectrochemistry;
  • Autonomous Bio-Robotics;
Connect with Yannis

Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups

Research outputs