Until now, they explained, an external source of electricity was required in order to power the process.
However, the team added, the current cost of operating the new technology is too high to be used commercially.
Details of the findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"There are bacteria that occur naturally in the environment that are able to release electrons outside of the cell, so they can actually produce electricity as they are breaking down organic matter," explained co-author Bruce Logan, from Pennsylvania State University, US.
"We use those microbes, particularly inside something called a microbial fuel cell (MFC), to generate electrical power.