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Journal of Power Sources

Stimulation of electro-fermentation in single-chamber microbial electrolysis cells driven by genetically engineered anode biofilms

Bhushan Awate, Rebecca J. Steidl, Thilo Hamlischer, Gemma Reguera

Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.


Unwanted metabolites produced during fermentations reduce titers and productivity and increase the cost of downstream purification of the targeted product. As a result, the economic feasibility of otherwise attractive fermentations is low. Using ethanol fermentation by the consolidated bioprocessing cellulolytic bacterium Cellulomonas uda, we demonstrate the effectiveness of anodic electro-fermentations at maximizing titers and productivity in a single-chamber microbial electrolysis cell (SCMEC) without the need for metabolic engineering of the fermentative microbe. The performance of the SCMEC platform relied on the genetic improvements of anode biofilms of the exoelectrogen Geobacter sulfurreducens that prevented the oxidation of cathodic hydrogen and improved lactate oxidation. Furthermore, a hybrid bioanode was designed that maximized the removal of organic acids in the fermentation broth. The targeted approach increased cellobiose consumption rates and ethanol titers, yields, and productivity three-fold or more, prevented pH imbalances and reduced batch-to-batch variability. In addition, the sugar substrate was fully consumed and ethanol was enriched in the broth during the electro-fermentation, simplifying its downstream purification. Such improvements and the possibility of scaling up SCMEC configurations highlight the potential of anodic electro-fermentations to stimulate fermentative bacteria beyond their natural capacity and to levels required for industrial implementation.

Graphical abstract

Keywords: Electro-fermentation; Geobacter; Bioelectrodes; Microbial electrolysis cells; Exoelectrogen; Anode biofilms.

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