There can be enormous adverse environmental impacts from the use of fossil fuels due to their extraction, transport, and use in combustion based processes. Many new methods of electricity production are needed. Researchers in the Environmental Engineering group at Penn State are working on new methods of energy production based on biological processes as these have the potential to be carbon-neutral, as the CO2 released through the use of biofuels is fixed atmospheric CO2, and thus they do not contribute to increased release of greenhouse gases.

Professor Bruce Logan works on several topics related to bioenergy production. During the last decade, Logan and his group have pioneered research on bioelectricity generation using microbial fuel cells (MFCs) which use certain microorganisms that can directly produce electricity from biodegradable organic matter. MFCs are being investigated for electricity production using domestic wastewater and other waste biomass. In addition, they work on microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) that use the same microorganism in MFCs to generate a current, but in MECs additional voltage is added to the circuit to drive hydrogen gas production at the cathode (an electrochemical process). Theoretically, the voltage needed to produce hydrogen gas is about 1/10th that needed for hydrogen gas production from water splitting. Logan has projects related to hydrogen gas production in MECs using cellulosic waste and other biodegradable materials.

Professor Jay Regan is working on methane production using anaerobic digesters and on biohydrogen production by fermentation processes. He also works on MFCs, with an emphasis of using molecular biology tools to study the microorganisms and microbial communities that generate electrical current in MFCs and MECs.




The Penn State Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, established in 1881, is internationally recognized for excellence in the preparation of undergraduate and graduate engineers through the integration of education, research, and leadership.

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

212 Sackett Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-1408

Phone: 814-863-3084