The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 80.0°F | A Few Clouds

News Briefs

‘Microbial Fuel Cell’ Turns Garbage to Energy


Scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst announced Sunday that they have built a novel device that uses bacteria to turn garbage into electricity.

The new “microbial fuel cell,” an early prototype, cannot generate enough power to run an appliance, but it can operate virtually indefinitely without interruption, and is far more efficient than anything like it ever built.

“We are not going to be adding to the power grid at any significant rate soon,” said Derek Lovley, a professor of microbiology at UMass-Amherst. “But with an electric lawn mower, you could use the leaves and clippings to power up the battery for next week.”

The bacteria in the battery generate electrical current when they feed on sugars, which are found virtually everywhere in nature. The technology could create electricity from a wide variety of materials, from human sewage to compost.

At the heart of the advance, which will be described in the October issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, is a newly discovered organism that is part of a group of bacteria known as “iron breathers,” so called because they rely on iron instead of oxygen. Sunday’s announcement is part of a broader effort to tap the unusual properties of various iron breathers, now being discovered across the far reaches of the planet, to generate power or clean up oil spills or other pollutants.

Schwarzenegger Dropped, Replaced By Davis at Mexican Parade


Race and politics, two of the unsolvable riddles of California life, collided Sunday morning at the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue and Indiana Street during the Mexican Independence Day parade.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who until two days ago was to be the grand marshal, was unceremoniously dumped when organizers rescinded his invitation. Instead, it was Gov. Gray Davis in attendance, the hero of the moment in the Latino community for having signed a bill on Friday that gives illegal immigrants the right to hold driver’s licenses.

Parade organizers said that Democratic politicians put pressure on them to drop Schwarzenegger, but Davis’ camp denied any involvement.

“Absolutely not,” said Peter Ragone, the governor’s spokesman. “We had no contact with anyone.”

Sunday’s contretemps capped a week of racial pandering and wedge-issue politics in the California recall race that left none of the top candidates unstained.

Davis was tagged by his critics as a toady to Latinos and the far left when he signed the driver’s license bill. Only a few months ago, before the threat of his recall, Davis vetoed the bill because, he said, it lacked safeguards to stop criminals or terrorists from changing their identities by acquiring a California license. It does not require a background investigation and other measures Davis requested.