Mick Lorusso


Microbial Fuel Cells


Reconsidering organic waste as energy in your community:


I encourage participants to make Microbial Fuel Cells as a catalyst for thought and conversation. Whether you choose to work alone or in a team, at home or in an institution, my hope is that these experiments will inspire curiosity, research, and sharing of ideas.


This plan to make Microbial Fuel Cells connected in series comes from a work in progress, so not everything has been fully tested. The number of Microbial Fuel Cells needed to power a Light Emitting Diode may vary depending on many factors, including the quality of bacteria in the soil you use and the efficiency of the electrodes. I encourage you to gather information from other sources online, including egbertfizwilly’s very thorough entries on Microbial Fuel Cells on the website Instructables (www.instructables.com/id/Simple-Algae-Home-CO2-Scrubber-Part-III-An-Algae)



Build Microbial Fuel Cells to produce Light:

Materials needed:

     Six sealable plastic containers, capable of holding between 1 liter and 3 liters each

      Plastic tube, wider than 2 cm (florescent cover tube or PVC works)

      Plastic flanges that fit tubes (can be found in plumbing)

     Duct tape or plastic wrap and rubber bands

     Plain agar or gelatin (100 grams)

     Salt (737 gram container)

     Hydrogen peroxide

     Silk or pantyhose material

     Mud from creek or lakebed.

     Plumber’s epoxy

     Graphite (pencil graphite)

     Insulated copper wire


     220 ohm resistor

     Small LED- 1.5 V or 2.1 V, 20 mA



Making the Salt Bridges:

Pour a liter of water in a glass container, place in a hot bath of boiling water (can use a large pot). Add agar or gelatin powder to the water. Stir.  Keep adding agar until the powder builds in excess at the bottom of the bottle. Add salt and stir.


Cut three 3” long tubes. Tape one end of each tube or tighten plastic wrap with rubber band over the end each tube.


Pour agar and salt liquid into the tubes.  Seal tops with tape or plastic bag and rubber band. Allow liquid to cool and refrigerate.


Making the Chambers.

Use epoxy to glue the flanges to the plastic canisters, at the same height, about half way up the height of the canister.


Drill out holes in the canisters inside the diameter of the flanges, so that they are slightly smaller than the diameter of the tube.


Cut circles of silk or pantyhose to fit inside the flanges. Glue in place, flat against the hole in the canister.


Remove salt and agar tubes from fridge, glue into place in the flanges, connecting the two canisters.


Drill a small hole in each lid, just large enough for the wire to pass through. Thread wire through the holes.


Making Electrodes:

Take thick graphite sticks and attach wire ends to them, in these possible ways:

a. Drilling a small hole in the top of the graphite and inserting the stripped wire, fix in place with epoxy.

b. Attaching alligator clips to wire ends, clipping alligator clips to pencil graphite. (In this case make sure the alligator clips do not get submerged in the liquid of the anode or cathode)



 Mud and Compost (Anode):


Collect mud and water from bottom of creek or lake, placing it in sealable bottles to prevent too much oxygen from entering into the soil.


Collect food scraps. Blend with food processor.


Combine mud and food slurry in the canister on one side of the MFC. Cover immediately with airtight cap. Glue off any places where air might enter, such as around the wire entry point. This is your anode.


Salt water and Hydrogen Peroxide (Cathode):

Pour salt into boiling water, stir in salt until it is no longer dissolving.  After it has cooled, pour this water into the canister connected via salt bridge to the mud and slurry. Add some hydrogen peroxide, to oxidize the water.  Leave the cap slightly open, or drill a hole at the top of the container to let aeration occur.


Resistance and Voltage:

Attach a 220 ohm resistor at the end of the anode wire. Measure current with multimeter. After a day you should be getting anywhere from 0.5 V to 1 V of electricity.


Repeat the above steps for three MFC’s.


Illumination and Contemplation:

After you have successfully constructed three MFC’s, connect them in series, meaning connect positive wire of one MFC to the negative wire of the next, until you have only one positive and one negative end. Connect the loose positive and negative wire to a low voltage LED (1.5 V or 2.1V) to illuminate a shrine that consists of objects, images, or text that have some meaning or importance to you. Consider the energy that is coming from your kitchen scraps or market scraps, as microbes in the mud consume the food and release charged ions.


Energy Discussion:

If you have the chance to invite people to participate in making or viewing your new MFC system, I encourage you to talk about the pathway that the energy takes within the system and beyond what you may know about all of the elements in the MFCs. Here are some questions that you could consider: Where does the energy originate? How do plants store energy from the earth and light? How do microorganisms break down organic molecules to produce energy? What is energy?


Collaboratively develop questions about the implications of the microbial fuel cell. What questions do you start to ask?


Try drawing some of the ideas you have about energy in the MFCs. How do you imagine it?


Branding MFCs

Print out Biodiamond Energy Icons and adhere them on the MFCs. Now your MFC project has become an extension of the Biodiamond Energy Project!


Document your Microbial Fuel Cells and shrines, and send them back to the site blog with any comments or ideas you have had in the process of making them.





Resources consulted:



 Arnau Ávila, Luis Jorge. “Trozos: El estomago de la ciudad.” Mexicanisimo. Editorial Paralelo 21. Web Jan 10, 2010.


Bonilla, Armando. “Presenta el IPN nuevo biodigestor para producir energía”. La Cronica, Sept 8, 2009. Web. Nov 27th, 2010.


Bonilla, Armando. “Producirán bioetanol con los residuos de la Central de Abasto”. La Cronica, Dec 10, 2009. Web. Nov 27th, 2010.


Snider, Gene (site name: egbertfitzwilly). “Make a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC)- Part I”. Instructibles. Web. March 22, 2011.


Guzman, Jessica. “Recuperan gas de basura orgánica: Dispositivo creado en el IPN también sirve para producir composta”. El Universal, Sept 8, 2009. Web. Nov 27th, 2010.


“Historia de la Central de Abasto”. Es Mas.com. EsMas, March 8, 2008. Web. Nov 27th, 2010.


Logan, Bruce. “Building a Two Chamber Microbial Fuel Cell”.  Microbial Fuel Cells. Penn State. Web. Feb 28, 2011.


Rosas, Valente. “Explosión daña 200 casas en Nezahualcóyotl”. El Universal. October 28, 2010.


“Residual Energy”.  Residual: Artistic Interventions in the City. Residual, 2010. Web. Nov 27, 2010.


Superflex. Supergas: Don’t Waste Waste. 2010. Web. Nov 27, 2010.


Wilkie, Dr. Ann C. “Biogas: A Renewable Fuel”. Feb 5th, 2010. University of Florida. Web. Nov 27, 2010.