By modifying the chemistry of an electrode surface to support the connection of microbial communities to the electrode, it’s possible to produce more electricity, more rapidly, than it is with unmodified electrodes, new research from the National University of Ireland-Galway has found.
The press release has more:
“Electron exchange” is at the heart of all redox reactions occurring in the natural world, as well as in bioengineered systems: so called ‘biolectrochemical systems’. Practical applications of these systems include current generation, wastewater treatment, and biochemical and biofuel production. The microbial-electrode interface is a sum of complex physical-chemical and biological interactions permitting microbes to exchange electrons with solid electrodes to produce bioelectrochemical systems. In these systems the microbes compete and self-select electrode materials for electron exchange capabilities.
However, to date this selection is not well understood, yet electricity or chemicals can (still) be produced using various substrates, including wastewater or waste gases, depending upon operational settings. The Biomolecular Electronics Research Laboratory has been working on probing conditions for selection of electrodes by microbes for several years, and we have recently adopted an approach to tailor the chemistry of electrode surfaces which will help us better understand the selection mechanism.
This work is what led to the new findings — surfaces that are modified with nitrogen-containing amines produce a higher and more-rapid production of electrical current when placed in microbial cultures, as compared to those without such a modification.
The researchers are now planning to continue their work by further investigating the selection mechanism — via experimentation with a wide variety of different surface modifications and microbial cultures.