Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) Market

Global Industry Analysis (2017 –  2020) – Growth Trends and Market Forecast (2021 – 2025)

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Energy Crisis Boosts R&D Investments in Fuel Cell Efficiency

Today, we are witnessing a global energy crisis due to the heavy surge in energy demand and the limited resources. Non-renewable sources are depleting at an alarming rate and the complete potential of renewable sources is yet to be explored and utilised. The new energy policy developing across the globe calls for the creation of a hydrogen society.

Growing concerns regarding climate change continue to trigger investments in zero-pollution based fuel sources such as fuel cells. There are numerous fuels cell which are fully commercial and have been in use extensively within the transportation sector. However, companies are still investing heavily on R&D activities to maximize the efficiency of fuel cells and discover other application areas. This has benefitted the other categories of fuel cells.

Microbial Fuel Cells Remain an Area of Interest for Research Studies

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) have gained traction among masses for low-to-medium power requirements. Microbial fuel cell or MFC technology that uses the mechanism of microorganisms to transform chemical energy of organic compounds into electricity is considered to be a promising alternative. Extensive studies have shown that microbial fuel cells are corroborated into a wide array of carbon sources, which include wastes that can be employed into using a variety of microbes.

Consequently, the microbial transformation of wastes using novel bioremediation strategies such as MFC for energy generation is considered as an efficient and an environmental benign approach.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the global fuel cell market. According to a recent number by International Energy Agency (IEA), the current hydrogen demand from oil refining industry and even steel manufacturing and chemical industries has been impacted by the outbreak. This has temporarily blurred the focal point, i.e., MFC R&D.

Demand for Microbial Fuel Cell at Wastewater Treatment Facilities Surges Owing to Lower Environmental Footprint

Microbial fuel cells play a very important economic role in wastewater treatment. The use of MFC in wastewater treatment facilities has dual advantages. Firstly, the electricity is produced with a cheaper rate that can be utilized for in-house electricity needs. Secondly, it leads to reduction in overall wastewater treatment costs. MFC removes the environmental pollutants like bacteria from the wastewater while producing electricity. Globally, the cost for wastewater treatment is approximately $30 billion annually and continues to rise each year. Thus, in wastewater treatment plants, microbial fuel cell can be an ideal solution to minimize the overall treatment costs.

Furthermore, adoption of microbial fuel cells for different applications will lead to reduced consumption of fossil fuels-driven energy, thereby lowering the overall environmental footprint. MFCs thus have a direct positive impact on the environment, which creates strong ground for their widespread adoption as a renewable energy technology and a potential alternative to fossil fuels.

Compared to other fuel cell types, MFC development as well as adoption are still in the nascent stage in a majority of nations across the globe. Thus, there is much scope for improvement in the power density that current systems gain from MFC. Scientists and researchers are still fine-tuning the process efficiencies, especially in areas that involve upscaling of power generation through higher substrate volumes.

Application of MFC in wastewater treatment also depends on significant variables such as the concentration and biodegradability of organic matter, wastewater temperature, and the presence of toxic chemicals. In addition to reliability and scalability, MFC systems also need to be simplified in order to make them more cost-effective, a factor that is likely to affect adoption in an era when solar and wind power would be on par with coal.

Demand for Mediator-free Microbial Fuel Cells to Grow Stronger

Mediator-based microbial fuel cells are not responsible of transporting electrons to the anodic surface because they do not synthesis a protein with active sites to help them do that. Instead, they use chemical mediators or agents that are also called electroactive metabolites. The most sought-after mediators are neutral red, potassium ferricyanide, and methyl viologen under anaerobic conditions.

On the other hand, mediator-free microbial fuel cell does not need mediators because most of the bacteria present in wastewater have the tendency to transport electrons to the electrodes and produce electricity using long nanowires. Mediator-based microbial fuel cells are costly compared to mediator-free microbial fuel cells. Globally, mediator-free MFCs have been garnering much focus of the research fraternity, in turn attracting extensive R&D investments. These MFCs are lesser toxic and demand lower production costs, with the potential to minimize overall MFC costs. Market attractiveness of microbial fuel cells is expected to rise through the forecast period.

Maximum Deployment Seals Top Spot for Asia Pacific

The global microbial fuel cell market is predominantly driven by developed regions such as the US, and Europe, and some of the fast-developing Asian nations. The market has seen surge in demand in the year 2019, specifically attributing to significant demand for MFC at wastewater treatment plants. Growing demand for green fuel, government support, and heavy R&D investments will be responsible for overall decline in costs. Moreover, enhanced efficiency of MFCs is expected to drive sales in the near future.

Currently, Asia Pacific leads the global microbial fuel cell market. Market dominance is due to growing MFC utilisation in a variety of application areas, including wastewater treatment and biosensors, and a large number of ongoing R&D activities. In 2008, researchers in Hyderabad, India developed a special microbial fuel cell (MFC) that generates bioelectricity by degrading wastewater. In China, there has been increase in power generation from cylindrical microbial fuel cell inoculated with P. aeruginosa as the feedstock. This technology provides a dual benefit of wastewater treatment along with energy generation and relatively easy access to cheap and eco-friendly energy sources.

In North America, more than 90% of hydrogen is consumed by refineries and industrial sector. However, there has been a significant rise is the demand for hydrogen in power generation sector as well as for wastewater treatment application. In December 2020, WSU researchers developed a sustainable wastewater treatment system that relies on electron-producing microbial communities to clean the water.

In Europe, several investors are funding R&D activities to improve microbial fuel cells through ground-breaking technologies. Researchers at the University of West of England (UWE), Bristol, investigated various environmental conditions to accomplish a faster growth and maximum power transfer in microbial fuel cells. This resulted in development of EcoBot (Ecological robot), which is an autonomous robot that employs MFCs for its operation energy supply. EcoBot, Slugbot uses microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology to generate electrical energy directly from unrefined biomass. It ferments slug mass and converts it into electrical energy, and uses it to catch the slug in the field.

The market for microbial fuel cell is at an introductory stage in Latin America and Middle East & Africa. In 2020, team Firat University, Turkey developed tin-coated copper can generate electricity/power from algae by utilizing multi-anode sediment microbial fuel cell (MFC). The fuel cell developed recorded the highest power density of 2,965 mW/m2. By 2030, Morocco aims to increase its electricity generation from renewable natural sources to 52%. MFCs are still a new technology; however, it goes hand in hand with the country’s green vision. These developments and visions related to renewable power is expected to trigger investments into microbial fuel cells in the next few years.

Global Microbial Fuel Cell Market: Competitive Landscape

Key players involved in microbial fuel cell market include Cambrian Innovation Inc, Vinpro Technologies, Open Therapeutics LLC, Triqua International BV, Sainergy Tech, Inc., MICROrganic Technologies, Prongineer, Fluence Corporation, Microbial Robotics, Emefcy, Protonex, and ElectroChem Inc. Open Therapeutics LLC focuses on commercialisation of a patent that was granted to Bacterial Robotics, LLC in 2015.

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