Improved cathode materials for microbial electrosynthesis

Tian Zhang, Huarong Nie, Timothy S. Bain, Haiyun Lu, Mengmeng Cui, Oona L. Snoeyenbos-West, Ashley E. Franks, Kelly P. Nevin, Thomas P. Russell, Derek R. Lovley

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Microbial electrosynthesis is a promising strategy for the microbial conversion of carbon dioxide to transportation fuels and other organic commodities, but optimization of this process is required for commercialization. Cathodes which enhance electrode-microbe electron transfer might improve rates of product formation. To evaluate this possibility, biofilms of Sporomusa ovata, which are effective in acetate electrosynthesis, were grown on a range of cathode materials and acetate production was monitored over time. Modifications of carbon cloth that resulted in a positive-charge enhanced microbial electrosynthesis. Functionalization with chitosan or cyanuric chloride increased acetate production rates 6-7 fold and modification with 3- aminopropyltriethoxysilane gave rates 3-fold higher than untreated controls. A 3-fold increase in electrosynthesis over untreated carbon cloth cathodes was also achieved with polyaniline cathodes. However, not all strategies to provide positively charged surfaces were successful, as treatment of carbon cloth with melamine or ammonia gas did not stimulate acetate electrosynthesis. Treating carbon cloth with metal, in particular gold, palladium, or nickel nanoparticles, also promoted electrosynthesis, yielding electrosynthesis rates that were 6-, 4.7- or 4.5-fold faster than the untreated control, respectively. Cathodes comprised of cotton or polyester fabric treated with carbon nanotubes yielded cathodes that supported acetate electrosynthesis rates that were ∼3-fold higher than carbon cloth controls. Recovery of electrons consumed in acetate was ∼80% for all materials. The results demonstrate that one approach to increase rates of carbon dioxide reduction in microbial electrosynthesis is to modify cathode surfaces to improve microbe-electrode interactions. © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2013.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnergy & Environmental Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)217-224
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacteria
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Chlorine compounds
  • Metal nanoparticles
  • Palladium
  • Pollution control
  • Polyaniline
  • Volatile fatty acids
  • Cathodes


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