The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Simplifying microbial electrosynthesis reactor design

TitleSimplifying microbial electrosynthesis reactor design
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsGiddings CGS, Nevin KP, Woodard TL, Lovley DR, Butler CS
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Date Published05/2015
KeywordsCO2 sequestration; Sporomusa ovata; artificial photosynthesis; bioelectrochemical system; microbial electrosynthesis; renewable energy storage

Microbial electrosynthesis, an artificial form of photosynthesis, can efficiently convert carbon dioxide into organic commodities; however, this process has only previously been demonstrated in reactors that have features likely to be a barrier to scale-up. Therefore, the possibility of simplifying reactor design by both eliminating potentiostatic control of the cathode and removing the membrane separating the anode and cathode was investigated with biofilms of Sporomusa ovata. S. ovata reduces carbon dioxide to acetate and acts as the microbial catalyst for plain graphite stick cathodes as the electron donor. In traditional 'H-cell' reactors, where the anode and cathode chambers were separated with a proton-selective membrane, the rates and columbic efficiencies of microbial electrosynthesis remained high when electron delivery at the cathode was powered with a direct current power source rather than with a potentiostat-poised cathode utilized in previous studies. A membrane-less reactor with a direct-current power source with the cathode and anode positioned to avoid oxygen exposure at the cathode, retained high rates of acetate production as well as high columbic and energetic efficiencies. The finding that microbial electrosynthesis is feasible without a membrane separating the anode from the cathode, coupled with a direct current power source supplying the energy for electron delivery, is expected to greatly simplify future reactor design and lower construction costs.