Research Article: Immobilization of anode-attached microbes in a microbial fuel cell

Date Published: January 3, 2012

Publisher: Springer

Author(s): Rachel C Wagner, Sikandar Porter-Gill, Bruce E Logan.


Current-generating (exoelectrogenic) bacteria in bioelectrochemical systems (BESs) may not be culturable using standard in vitro agar-plating techniques, making isolation of new microbes a challenge. More in vivo like conditions are needed where bacteria can be grown and directly isolated on an electrode. While colonies can be developed from single cells on an electrode, the cells must be immobilized after being placed on the surface. Here we present a proof-of-concept immobilization approach that allows exoelectrogenic activity of cells on an electrode based on applying a layer of latex to hold bacteria on surfaces. The effectiveness of this procedure to immobilize particles was first demonstrated using fluorescent microspheres as bacterial analogs. The latex coating was then shown to not substantially affect the exoelectrogenic activity of well-developed anode biofilms in two different systems. A single layer of airbrushed coating did not reduce the voltage produced by a biofilm in a microbial fuel cell (MFC), and more easily applied dip-and-blot coating reduced voltage by only 11% in a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC). This latex immobilization procedure will enable future testing of single cells for exoelectrogenic activity on electrodes in BESs.

Partial Text

Bioelectrochemical systems (BESs) are based on electron transfer between microbes and an electrode surface. Most investigations into the mechanisms of electron transfer from a microbe to an anode have focused on two microorganisms, Geobacter sulfurreducens (Marsili et al. 2008; Holmes et al. 2006; Strycharz et al. 2010; Inoue et al. 2010; Nevin et al. 2009; Srikanth et al. 2008) and Shewanella oneidensis (Bretschger et al. 2007; Gorby et al. 2006), where it has been shown that specific genes and proteins are involved in exogenous electron transfer. Further study of current-generating (exoelectrogenic) bacteria and biofilms will benefit from isolating and identifying other microorganisms that are capable of electron transfer to an electrode.

Latex was applied to two different types of anodes, carbon paper (without wet proofing; E-Tek) or graphite blocks (Grade GM-10; Inc.), in two different types of BESs in order to evaluate the immobilization method under different conditions. Carbon paper was used as the anode in a single-chamber 28-mL microbial fuel cell (MFC) reactor with a platinum-catalyzed air cathode (Cheng et al. 2006; Liu and Logan 2004) (both electrodes with projected surface area of 7 cm2). Graphite blocks (projected surface area of 4.6 cm2) were used as anodes for a single-chamber 5-mL microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) with a 1.0 × 1.5 cm2 304 stainless steel 90 × 90 mesh cathode (Call and Logan 2011). Carbon paper (projected surface area of 3.0 cm2) was also used as anode material in some 5-mL MECs. All reactors were inoculated using cell suspensions from pre-acclimated MFCs that were originally inoculated with domestic wastewater and acetate. A multimeter (2700, Keithley Instruments, Inc.) was used to monitor the voltage across an external resistor (Rex = 10 Ω, MEC; 1000 Ω, MFC). A power source (3645A, Circuit Specialists, Inc.) was connected to the MEC circuit to add -0.7 V to the cathode. All BESs were maintained at 30°C.

Latex films were shown be effective in holding individual particles (fluorescent microspheres) or active biofilms on electrically conductive surfaces. Microbes trapped on two different surfaces (carbon paper and graphite block) using different application methods (airbrushing and dip-and-blot) retained most of their exoelectrogenic capability. On both surfaces, and in both MFC and MEC reactors, increasing the amount of latex applied onto the biofilm adversely affected the ability of the anode to recover exoelectrogenic activity to pre-application current levels (Lyngberg et al. (2001)). found that effective diffusivity through the latex was highly dependent on layer thickness. Therefore, this decrease in activity was likely due to a reduction in mass transfer to (substrate) and from (protons) the biofilm with thicker layers of latex.

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.