Microbial electrochemical cells or MXCs are able to use bacterial respiration as a means of liberating electrons, which can be used to generate current and make clean electricity. With minor reconfiguring such devices can also carry out electrolysis, providing a green path to hydrogen production, reducing reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels, now used for most hydrogen manufacture.
Dr. Prathap Parameswaran showing the electrode used in the microbial electrochemical cell (MEC). MXCs resemble a battery, with a Mason jar-sized chamber setup for each terminal. The bacteria are grown in the “positive” chamber (called the anode). The research team, led by Bruce Rittmann, director of Biodesign’s Center for Environmental Biotechnology, had previously shown that the bacteria are able to live and thrive on the anode electrode, and can use waste materials as food, (the bacteria’s dietary staples include pig manure or other farm waste) to grow while transferring electrons onto the electrode to make electricity.
In a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC), like that used in the current study, the electrons produced at the anode join positiviely charged protons in the negative (cathode) chamber to form hydrogen gas. “The reactions that happen at the MEC anode are the same as for a microbial fuel cell which is used to generate electricity, “ Parameswaran says. “The final output is different depending on how we operate it.”
When the bacteria are grown in an oxygen-free, or anaerobic environment, they attach to the MXC’s anode, forming a sticky matrix of sugar and protein. In such environments, when fed with organic compounds, an efficient partnership of bacteria gets established in the biofilm anode, consisting of fermenters, hydrogen scavengers, and anode respiring bacteria (ARB). This living matrix, known as the biofilm anode, is a strong conductor, able to efficiently transfer electrons to the anode where they follow a current gradient across to the cathode side.
The present study demonstrates that the level of electron flow from the anode to the cathode can be improved by selecting for additional bacteria known as homo-acetogens, in the anode chamber. Homo-acetogens capture the electrons from hydrogen in waste material, producing acetate, which is a very favorable electron donor for the anode bacteria.
The study shows that under favorable conditions, the anode bacteria could convert hydrogen to current more efficiently after forming a mutual relationship or syntrophy with homo-acetogens. The team was also able to reduce the negative impact of other hydogen consuming microbes, such as methane-producing methanogens, which otherwise steal some of the available electrons in the system, thereby reducing current. The selective inhibition of methanogens was accomplished by the adding a chemical called 2-bromoethane sulfonic acid to the adode’s microbial stew.
The group used both chemical and genomic methods to confirm the identify of homo-acetogens. In addition to detection of acetate, formate, an intermediary product, was also discovered. With the aid of quantitative PCR analysis, the team was also able to pick up the genomic signature of acetogens in the form of FTHFS, a gene specifically associated with acetogenesis.
“We were able to establish that these homo-acetogens can prevail and form relationships,” Parameswaran says. Future research will explore ways to sustain syntrophic relations between homo-acetogens and anode bacteria, in the absence of the chemical inhibitors.
Further progress could pave the way for eventual large-scale commercialization of systems to simultaneously treat wastewater and generate clean energy. “One of the biggest limitations right now is our lack of knowledge,” says Cesar Torres, one of the current study’s co-authors, who stresses that there remains much to understand about the interactions of bacterial communities within MXCs.
The field is still very young, Torres points out, noting that work on MXCs only began about 8 years ago. “I think over the next 5-10 years the community will bring a lot of information that will be really helpful and that will lead us to good applications.”
The team’s results appear in the advanced online issue of the journal Bioresource Technology.Written by Richard Harth
Joe Caspermeyer | EurekAlert!
Warming ponds could accelerate climate change
21.02.2017 | University of Exeter
An alternative to opioids? Compound from marine snail is potent pain reliever
21.02.2017 | University of Utah
In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences
21.02.2017 | Medical Engineering
21.02.2017 | Trade Fair News