A researching team from Washington State University conducted a test at the famous alkaline hot springs of the Yellowstone National Park. At the time of testing, the temperature of the hot spring was actually quite HOT (around 90o C). The latest report suggested that some bacteria were found in the water that has the ability to ‘eat’ and ‘breathe’ electricity. Certain species of bacteria that live in oxygen-deprived environments perform a unique type of breathing, which releases electrons. Simply put, these bacteria are able to produce electricity. Taking leads from this finding, NASA is hoping to use bioelectricity in future space missions as soon as the technology is developed further.
After a 7 mile walk through the paths of Heart Lake Geyser Basin Area, the team planted anodes in the water. The anodes were left for 32 days at the location with the team hoping to coax the organisms within. Under the supervision of Haluk Beyenal, Paul Hohenschuh (a Distinguished Professor in the Gene), and Linda Voiland (School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering), Phuc Ha, a Postdoctoral Researcher and Abdul Rehman Mohammed, a Student of WSU analyzed the electrodes. The team succeeded in capturing bacteria that ‘breathes’ electricity through solid carbon surface of the electrodes. Mohammed explained that in the following words:
“This was the first time such bacteria were collected in situ in an extreme environment like an alkaline hot spring. Temperatures in the springs ranged from about 110 to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit.”
A lot of bacteria display exotic behavior which includes being able to eat pollutants and being living electricity generators (Electron Managing Dynamics). The exact species of these bacteria has not been identified yet but researchers are trying hard to solve this riddle. They were living in an alkaline environment which is a natural battery. Theories suggest that the bacteria must have adapted to the surroundings to utilize the energy to its max potential. In order to collect bacteria in such extreme conditions, Mohammed invented a portable yet cheap potentiostat, which could control the submerged electrodes for long periods of time. Beyenal referred to that by saying,
“As these bacteria pass their electrons into metals or other solid surfaces, they can produce a stream of electricity that can be used for low-power applications. The natural conditions found in geothermal features such as hot springs are difficult to replicate in laboratory settings. So, we developed a new strategy to enrich heat-loving bacteria in their natural environment.”