Let There Be Light: LEDs powered by Microbial Fuel Cells

4 by LiveOAK Staff

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A enlightening hole full of crap and trash won a $200,000 grant from the World Bank.  More specifically, Lebônê Solutions is one of 16 winners in the World Bank's Lighting Africa 2008 Development Competition for their work on implementing Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) to provide light to rural Africans that are currently stranded in the dark. 

In most African countries, 95% of the population is living off-grid with no access to electricity.  This is not the empowered 20 something post grad hippie living in a Yurt "Off the grid" this is impoverished rural Africa that lacks the infrastructure and resources they need for quality education, health, and public safety.  This is the condition that the World Bank's Lighting Africa 2008 Development Competition aimed to address. 

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[photo via: Living Power Systems]

Lebônê, headed by Harvard Grad Hugo Van Vuuren, is a social enterprise whose mission is to end the energy and lighting crisis in Africa with low-cost, non-toxic energy.  Their solution is the implementation of a combination of highly efficient PLED lights powered by MFCs.  These fuel cells run on animal and plant waste and naturally occurring soil microbes.  As the microbes break down the orgainic matter they release electrons and the MFC is capable of harvesting them.  This is a naturally occuring process that happens all around us 24 hours a day.  Harvesting the power of this natural process is truly an eco-friendly energy option.  Plus, MFCs are inexpensive, durable and easy to implement, however they require rather large cells to produce a relatively low amount of energy.  So while we won't be powering our homes here in the developed world with bacteria anytime soon, this is a great solution to utilize sustainable resources provide light to places that really need it. 

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