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Ecology and technology of microbial fuel cells

Project Description

Bacteria can be used to generate electricity. Electrons are produced by bacteria as they decompose organic matter (the "fuel") under anaerobic conditions, and the electricity produced can be stored in a battery or used to power instruments. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) therefore offer an opportunity to tap into cheap and sustainable energy production. MFCs have only recently been explored as a viable technology, but there are exploratory technologies that use sewage and industrial waste as energy-rich fuels. MFCs are typically inhabited by a diverse community of bacteria and other microbes. The studentship will investigate the link between the ecological dynamics of MFCs to explore how changes to the MFC microbiome influence electricity generation. The studentship will be primarily based in the laboratory of Prof Thomas Bell (Silwood Park Campus,, who has a substantial body of work demonstrating how experimental alterations to microbial communities impact ecosystem functioning (e.g. decomposition rates). The studentship will combine these microbial experimental approaches with methods developed in the REaCT lab of Prof Klaus Hellgardt (South Kensington Campus,, including techniques to characterise electrochemical (fuel cell) systems and to construct novel cell configurations. This collaborative project will therefore pursue 2 linked objectives: (1) construction of a well-plate MFC system to allow rapid screening of up to 96 simultaneous fuel cells; (2) screening and artificial evolution of archived microbial communities that optimise electricity production. For queries, contact Profs Thomas Bell () and Klaus Hellgardt ().

Residential & Academic Eligibility

UK or EU nationals who are ordinarily residents of the UK are eligible to apply. Candidates must carefully read Annex 1 of the RCUK Training Grant Guide ( to determine their own eligibility before applying. Candidates are expected to have a BSc degree, in a relevant subject, at 2:1 level or better, as well as a postgraduate Masters qualification, by October 2020. Exceptional students at Bachelor’s level may also be considered.

How to Apply

Please visit our BBSRC DTP webpage to obtain more information on how to apply (

Deadline for applications: 12noon on Friday, 21 February 2020.

Funding Notes

The studentships cover: (i) an annual tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£17,009 for 2019-2020, to be confirmed for 2020-2021 but typically increases annually in line with inflation), (ii) contribution towards research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.

Studentships will last for 3.5 years full-time.

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