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Best known for their use in exfoliating skin to soft, radiant perfection, loofahs have great potential to be a tool to advance sustainability efforts on two fronts at the same time: Energy and waste.

A new study describes pairing loofahs with bacteria to create a power-generating microbial fuel cell (MFC).

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MFCs, which harness the ability of some bacteria to convert waste into electric power, could help address the world’s growing waste problem while also fulfilling its need for clean power, said Shungui Zhou and colleagues from the Researchers from the Guangdong Institute of Eco-environmental and Soil Sciences in China.

Current MFC devices can be expensive and complicated to make. In addition, the holes, or pores, in the cells’ electrodes often end up being too small for bacteria to spread out in.

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Researchers turned to plant materials as a low-cost alternative, but pore size has still been an issue. People commonly use loofahs, which come from the fully ripened fruit of loofah plants, as bathing sponges. They have very large pores, yet are still inexpensive. That’s why Zhou’s team decided to investigate their potential use in MFCs.

When the scientists put nitrogen-enriched carbon nanoparticles on loofahs and loaded them with bacteria, the resulting MFC performed better than traditional MFCs.

“This study introduces a promising method for the fabrication of high-performance anodes from low-cost, sustainable natural materials,” Zhou said.

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