Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) is a bio-electrochemical system that produces electric current by using bacteria. MFC is essentially a device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy by using bacteria or microorganisms. The concept of MFC is not new. It was first developed in the early 20th century. MFC has gained attention due to its capability to produce electricity from organic as well as inorganic compounds. In terms of setup, MFC has many properties in common with standard hydrogen fuel cell. MFC consists of an anode and cathode chamber and a proton exchange membrane between the two chambers. MFC is usually grouped into two categories: mediated MFC and unmediated (or mediator-free) MFC. Mediated MFC uses mediators, which facilitate the transfer of electron from microbial cells to electrodes. Most of the microbial cells are electrochemically inactive; thus, the usage of mediators becomes essential for mediated MFC. In unmediated or mediator-free MFC, the transfer of electrons from microbial cells to electrodes is carried out by electrochemically active bacteria. Unmediated MFC is preferred over the mediated type as most of the mediators are toxic and expensive.
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MFC uses a wide range of fuel for generation of electricity and it is possible to produce the electricity from any kind of organic and inorganic material. It is also notable that the input used to generate electricity, leaves no harmful by-products. Microbial fuel cell is employed in a wide range of applications. It is commonly used in household electricity generation, power supply to small devices, wastewater treatment plants, and hydrogen generation, among others. However, most of the microbial fuel cells applications are still R&D scale systems, due to some practical difficulties in terms of economic viability and environmental feasibility.
Increasing demand for energy and rising awareness about the environment are the key drivers of the microbial fuel cell market. Fossil fuel resources are limited. Use of these fuels causes pollution and also leads to global warming. MFC can be termed as renewable energy resource. When used in wastewater treatment plants, MFC not only treats the water but also produces electricity. However, MFC produces insignificant quantity of power or electricity as compared to the conventional fuel cells. Furthermore, MFC cannot produce power consistently and thus, it cannot be treated as the primary source of power for large scale applications. These are the restraining factors of the MFC market.
North America is estimated to account for major share of the microbial fuel cell market during the forecast period. Significant investments in R&D activities by governments of various countries and other agencies in order to develop MFC offer lucrative opportunities to the microbial fuel cell market. The MFC market in Asia Pacific is expected to follow that in North America during the forecast period. Asia Pacific has several populous countries such as India, China, and Japan where a considerable part of the population still lives in villages and remote areas. In such places, MFC can be used as a potential technique for household renewable power generation, to obtain low-cost and clean power supply. Europe is known for its contribution in research and development, especially in the renewable technology sector. The MFC market is expected to grow rapidly in this region. The outlook for the MFC market also appears positive in Middle East & Africa and Latin America. Countries in these regions are economically backward and majority of the population lives in remote places. MFC can thus be used as a vital technology for generation of electricity in these regions.
Key players operating in the microbial fuel cell market are Protonex, Vinpro, Sainergy, Cambrian Innovation Inc., and Fluence Corporation Limited.
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