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Electricity generation by direct oxidation of glucose in mediatorless microbial fuel cells


Abundant energy, stored primarily in the form of carbohydrates, can be found in waste biomass from agricultural, municipal and industrial sources as well as in dedicated energy crops, such as corn and other grains1,2,3,4. Potential strategies for deriving useful forms of energy from carbohydrates include production of ethanol4,5,6 and conversion to hydrogen7,8,9,10, but these approaches face technical and economic hurdles. An alternative strategy is direct conversion of sugars to electrical power. Existing transition metal–catalyzed fuel cells cannot be used to generate electric power from carbohydrates11. Alternatively, biofuel cells in which whole cells or isolated redox enzymes catalyze the oxidation of the sugar have been developed12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19, but their applicability has been limited by several factors, including (i) the need to add electron-shuttling compounds that mediate electron transfer from the cell to the anode, (ii) incomplete oxidation of the sugars and (iii) lack of long-term stability of the fuel cells. Here we report on a novel microorganism, Rhodoferax ferrireducens, that can oxidize glucose to CO2 and quantitatively transfer electrons to graphite electrodes without the need for an electron-shuttling mediator. Growth is supported by energy derived from the electron transfer process itself and results in stable, long-term power production.

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Figure 1: Growth of R. ferrireducens at 25 °C with glucose as electron donor and Fe(iii) as the electron acceptor.
Figure 2: Current generation by and growth of R. ferrireducens at 25 °C in two-chambered fuel cells under poised-potential conditions using graphite rod electrodes.
Figure 3: Current generation in fuel cell mode at 25 °C.


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We thank Kevin Finneran for providing the initial suggestion that R. ferrireducens could oxidize glucose. This research was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency Biofilms Program (grant no. N66001-02-C-8044), the Office of Naval Research (grant no. N0014-00-1-0776) and the Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research (NABIR) program, Biological and Environmental Research (BER), US Department of Energy (grant no. DE-FG02-97ER62475).

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Correspondence to Derek R Lovley.

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Chaudhuri, S., Lovley, D. Electricity generation by direct oxidation of glucose in mediatorless microbial fuel cells. Nat Biotechnol 21, 1229–1232 (2003).

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