NASA Wants Bacteria BatteriesGetting reliable power in space has long been an issue. Solar power, the go-to solution for satellites and space stations, Becomes less than useful as you move further out into the solar system, thanks to light intensity decaying rapidly.
And traditional batteries and fuels are too inefficient for space and fail in the temperatures of space. The most reliable source of energy has long been based on the radioactive decay of particles, which can drive a mars rover for Earth years. But these devices are large and bulky, unfit for the fleets of tiny, 1 Kg rovers that many space roboticists crave. So one man has proposed an alternate solution.
The bacteria would be arranged much like a solar panel is, with the bacterial cells taking the place of a solar panel’s cells. The bacteria would munch on a food source and pass electrons through themselves, creating an electric current. So they are probably more like a generator than a battery.
Scott’s plans to pipe part of the generated current into the onboard electronics, while saving the rest in a battery for when more current is needed, like with a high-energy research tool.
Bacteria are able to pack a lot of energy into a small space. So far we have had trouble pulling enough energy out of bacterial batteries for large scale uses, thanks to the research being decades behind traditional battery research. But that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t handle a small Mars rover with ease. And of course, bacterial batteries are easier to recharge than traditional batteries, especially on a desolate landscape.
While Scott didn’t talk about recharging off of the land, the right bacteria would be fairly simple to feed. Of course, scientists would need to make exotic strains of chemosynthetic bacteria make power, rather than the more common ones that derive energy from light and sugar.