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Continuous Sustainable Power Supply

Benthic Microbial Fuel Cell

Naval Research Laboratory

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PDF Document PublicationBenthicMicrobialFuelCell (628 KB)

Technology Marketing Summary

The Naval Research Laboratory's benthic microbial fuel cell (BMFC) is a non-depletable power supply for marine-deployed applications. The BMFC oxidizes organic matter in the marine sediment with the oxygen available in the surrounding water. BMFC makes an ideal power source for continual and remote sensor operations.


The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed the benthic microbial fuel cell (BMFC) as a persistent power supply for marine-deployed applications requiring up to 1 Watt time-average power. The BMFC operates on the bottom of marine environments where it oxidizes organic matter residing in sediment with oxygen in overlying water. The NRL BMFC is a maintenance free, non-depleting power supply suitable for a wide range of sensors presently powered by batteries. Unlike batteries however, the NRL BMFC will not deplete owing to constant supply of its fuel and oxidant by environmental processes and constant rejuvenation of its microbial electrode catalysts. For this reason, the NRL BMFC is an ideal power supply for when long duration uninterrupted sensor operation is a must, and for hard to access sensors and high-density sensor arrays where the cost of battery replacement is high.

  • Low cost
  • Durable and efficient electrodes
  • No moving parts
  • No consumable components
Applications and Industries
  • Marine deployed Naval and scientific instruments
  • Autonomous vehicles
Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Patent 8,012,616
Advanced apparatus for generating electrical power from aquatic sediment/water interfaces
An improved benthic microbial fuel cell for generating energy at the interface of aquatic sediment and seawater includes an anode electrode embedded within the aquatic sediment, a cathode electrode positioned within the seawater and above the aquatic sediment, a rig for maintaining the relative positions of the anode and cathode electrodes, electrical leads extending from the anode and cathode electrodes to a load, wherein the anode electrode comprises a bottlebrush electrode residing within a permeable tube. The apparatus is easier to deploy than previously-described fuel cells, while being lighter, more durable, and generating greater power density. Also disclosed are methods of generating power from such an apparatus.
Patent 6,913,854
Method and apparatus for generating power from voltage gradients at sediment-water interfaces
A method and apparatus for generating power from voltage gradients at sediment-water interfaces or within stratified euxinic water-columns is provided. Natural voltage gradients typically exist at and about sediment-water interfaces or in isolated water bodies. One electrode (anode) is positioned in the sediment or water just below the redox boundary and the other electrode (cathode) is positioned in the water above the redox boundary over the first electrode. The anode is lower in voltage than the cathode. Current will flow when the electrodes are connected through a load, and near-perpetual generating of worthwhile power may be sustained by the net oxidation of organic matter catalyzed by microorganisms.
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated

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To: Dr. Rita Manak<>