Electricity production from cellulose in a microbial fuel cell using a defined binary culture

Zhiyong Ren, Thomas E Ward, John M Regan
Environmental Science & Technology 2007 July 1, 41 (13): 4781-6
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) convert biodegradable materials into electricity, potentially contributing to an array of renewable energy production strategies tailored for specific applications. Since there are no known microorganisms that can both metabolize cellulose and transfer electrons to solid extracellular substrates, the conversion of cellulosic biomass to electricity requires a syntrophic microbial community that uses an insoluble electron donor (cellulose) and electron acceptor (anode). Electricity was generated from cellulose in an MFC using a defined coculture of the cellulolytic fermenter Clostridium cellulolyticum and the electrochemically active Geobacter sulfurreducens. In fed-batch tests using two-chamber MFCs with ferricyanide as the catholyte, the coculture achieved maximum power densities of 143 mW/ m2 (anode area) and 59.2 mW/m2 from 1 g/L carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) and MN301 cellulose, respectively. Neither pure culture alone produced electricity from these substrates. The coculture increased CMC degradation from 42% to 64% compared to a pure C. cellulolyticum culture. COD removal using CMC and MN301 was 38 and 27%, respectively, with corresponding Coulombic efficiencies of 47 and 39%. Hydrogen, acetate, and ethanol were the main residual metabolites of the binary culture. Cellulose conversion to electricity was also demonstrated using an uncharacterized mixed culture from activated sludge with an aerobic aqueous cathode.

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