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Updated: December 16, 2009 17:27 IST

Spoiled wine can produce energy: Scientists

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BOTTLED POWER: A bottle of old wine. Scientists have found a new technology that generates electricity by using waste from improper fermentation. Photo: AP
AP BOTTLED POWER: A bottle of old wine. Scientists have found a new technology that generates electricity by using waste from improper fermentation. Photo: AP

A bottle of spoiled wine could help cut your power bills, as American and Indian scientists have come up with a new technology that generates electricity by using waste from improper fermentation.

According to the scientists, the technology could provide a new and cost effective way to clean wastewater from wineries and get some value out of a “bad bottle of wine“.

They found two groups of bacteria available in winery waste. One group of bacteria turns unused sugar and unwanted vinegar from improper fermentation into electricity, while the other uses that electricity to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, which escape into the atmosphere.

“There is nothing special about the bacteria,” said Bruce Logan, a scientist at Penn State University who recently installed a microbial electrolysis cell at a winery in Napa Valley, California. “We just give them a good environment to grow in.”

Sheela Berchmans, a professor at the Central Electrochemical Research Institute (CERI) in Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu, also claimed to have generated power by using the same methodology, the LiveScience website reported.

“Sugars like glucose, alcohols and effluents containing sugars or alcohols can be used (to produce electricity),” said Ms. Berchmans, who recently co-authored a paper in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

According to her, the two groups of bacteria identified as Acetobacter aceti and Bluconobacter roseus - can spoil wine.

The scientists at CERI, who created microbial fuel cells using single cultures of each bacteria as well as both together, produced 859 milliwatts of power.

However, the electricity produced is not much - at least not yet, the scientists said

According to Mr. Logan’s estimates, about 1.5 per cent of all the electricity in the US goes into wastewater treatment.

“We are producing more methane than we wanted,” said Mr. Logan, who is trying to correct the problem by planting microbial electrolysis cells. The scientists could collect the hydrogen for a fuel cell or burn the methane for heat,” said Mr. Logan, but for now they let it escape into the atmosphere.

The microbial electrolysis cell project is meant to save the winery a significant amount of money, but to prove the technology is feasible, says Logan, who estimates it will take three to five years before a commercially viable microbial electrolysis cell is available.

The scientists hope that the technology could eventually be scaled up to produce more electricity or help to save electricity that would normally be used to treat waste water.

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