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Electricity from bacteria, grape jelly in Ohio

These bugs chew up sugar in the wastewater and give you hydrogen.

Hubbard, Ohio-based NanoLogix, which specializes in industrial microbes, said today that it has coaxed microorganisms to create hydrogen, which in turn was used to generate electricity.

The hydrogen powered a 5.5-kilowatt generator. The generator powered multiple strings of 100-watt bulbs. Hydrogen doesn't power generators directly. Hydrogen is fed into a fuel cell, which strips away electrons that get ultimately fed into an electrical appliance.

The hydrogen is harvested from sugars in wastewater, according to the company. The company gets it from a Welch's jelly plant nearby in Erie, Pa. The process was devised in part by Harry Diz, department chair and professor of environmental engineering at Gannon University and the developer of the NanoLogix bioreactor. The company did not provide specifics on how much sugar and wastewater is needed, what conditions are required to metabolize the sugar, what species of microbes were used, or whether Nutella would have the same effect. Still, an interesting achievement.

NanoLogix also develops products for the medical community and national security.

Microbes, those disease-spreading pests that Mr. Clean was made to kill, are one of the emerging stars in the energy field. Microbes essentially take sugars or other matter and convert them into alcohol, methane, semiconductor materials and other useful products. Microbes are basically little chemical factories or employees, but without dental plans or severance packages.

NanoLogix says it's the first time that the company knows of someone harvesting electricity from microbes and using it on site. While that may be the case, others have been tinkering with exploiting microorganisms for hydrogen. James Swartz at Stanford University has isolated a microbe that uses energy from the sun to split water molecules and create hydrogen. With this technique, raw materials like sugar aren't needed. Unfortunately, in their natural state, the microbes get killed by oxygen, so Stanford researchers are trying to see if they can genetically insulate them from the effects of oxygen.

A company called Fundamental Applied Biology has been formed around Swartz's research.

A pest approach to hydrogen could take out of of the major objections to hydrogen: the costly, energy-intensive process for making it.