Exoelectrogenic bacteria that power microbial fuel cells

Abstract

There has been an increase in recent years in the number of reports of microorganisms that can generate electrical current in microbial fuel cells. Although many new strains have been identified, few strains individually produce power densities as high as strains from mixed communities. Enriched anodic biofilms have generated power densities as high as 6.9 W per m2 (projected anode area), and therefore are approaching theoretical limits. To understand bacterial versatility in mechanisms used for current generation, this Progress article explores the underlying reasons for exocellular electron transfer, including cellular respiration and possible cell–cell communication.

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Figure 1: Microbial fuel cell architecture.
Figure 2: Potentials and power densities in microbial fuel cells.
Figure 3: Scanning electron micrograph of Rhodopseudomonas palustris on a carbon paper anode.

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Acknowledgements

I thank J.M. Regan for valuable comments and discussion, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) Global Research Partnership for their support.

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DATABASES

Entrez Genome Project

Clostridium acetobutylicum

Desulphovibrio desulphuricans subspecies desulphuricans strain ATTC 27774

Escherichia coli

Geobacter sulfurreducens

Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus

Ochrobactrum anthropi

Pelotomaculum thermopropionicum

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Rhodopseudomonas palustris

Shewanella oneidensis MR-1

Shewanella putrefaciens

Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803

FURTHER INFORMATION

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Glossary

Air cathode

A cathode that is exposed to air on one side and water on the other side.

Anode potential

The potential of the anode relative to a reference electrode (usually a standard hydrogen electrode).

Catholyte

A chemical that accepts electrons at the cathode.

Coulombic efficiency

Amount of Coulombs captured in electrical current generation relative to the maximum possible assuming complete oxidation of the substrate. A Coulomb is the SI unit of electric charge, and is the amount of electric charge transported in 1 second at 1 ampere.

Dissimilatory metal-reducing bacterium

A bacterium that is capable of using metals as a terminal electron acceptor for respiration.

Exocellular

Occurring outside the cell membrane (equivalent to extracellular) in a cell surface or non-cell-associated process.

Exoelectrogenic

Describes the ability of certain microorganisms to generate and transfer electrons exocellularly.

Nanowire

An electrically conductive appendage produced by a bacterium that is proposed to conduct electrons from the cell to surfaces such as metal oxides or electrodes.

Potentiostat

A device that can be used to set a specific potential for an electrode.

Quorum signal

A small molecule that is used as a signal for specialized responses within a bacterial community.

Redox potential

A relative measure of the potential (in volts) for a chemical to gain or lose electrons.

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Logan, B. Exoelectrogenic bacteria that power microbial fuel cells. Nat Rev Microbiol 7, 375–381 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro2113

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