Navy Hopes To Harness The Power Of Bacteria Farts

Or, you know, the gas emitted by tiny microorganisms

Illustration: Vocativ
Aug 29, 2016 at 4:43 PM ET

American seapower may soon run with the aid of combustive fumes harvested from hungry microorganisms.

The United States Navy is seeking to patent what it has dubbed a “Bacteria-Based Gas Generator” that can drum up vast sums of hydrogen or methane, according to paperwork filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Documents show that the Navy envisions a wide range of maritime use for its microbe-munching machine. Among them: creating pressurized ballast tanks for marine vessels; producing a portable power source that can easily be resupplied, and; providing sufficient energy to run unmanned watercraft and portions of vehicles.

Here’s how the military’s bacterial fart generator will supposedly work. Microorganisms housed inside a pressure chamber will be given a steady supply of food. As they consume this food, the bacteria produces gas as a byproduct. The type of gas depends on the organism. For instance, Clostridium acetobutylicum produces hydrogen. Methanocelleus bourgensis produces methane.

“Any microorganism that produces a gas may be used,” reads the Navy’s patent documents.

The gas produced inside the chamber can reach as high as 30 pounds per square inch above atmospheric pressure. A valve then releases the pressurized gas from the chamber for the above-mentioned uses.

Sound fishy? While it’s definitely important to note that lots and lots of things get patented and never turn into reality, let also not forget that the U.S. military is on the verge of launching a 132-foot robot battle ship called the Sea Hunter as well as developing a sleeping army of underwater drones. In other words, this ain’t your granddad’s Navy.