Fresh water + salt water + bacteria = renewable energy

John Timmer

Fresh water + salt water + bacteria = renewable energy

Most of the renewable energy sources that are under consideration involve an obvious source of energy—light, heat, or motion. But this is the second time this year there has been a paper that has focused on a less obvious source: the potential difference between fresh river water and the salty oceans it flows into. But this paper doesn’t simply use the difference to produce some electricity; instead, it adds bacteria to the process and takes out a portable fuel: hydrogen.

The process is still fundamentally electrochemical. Sea water and fresh water are placed on opposite sides of a membrane that allows ions through, but prevents the passage of water molecules. The ions will move to the fresh water to balance osmotic forces, which will create a charge difference that can be harvested for various purposes. The voltage produced in a single one of these cells is small, but the source of the power is essentially unlimited and is available 24 hours a day.

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