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Concept: Microbial fuel cell


Access to safe drinking water is a human right, crucial to combat inequalities, reduce poverty and allow sustainable development. In many areas of the world, however, this right is not guaranteed, in part because of the lack of easily deployable diagnostic tools. Low-cost and simple methods to test water supplies onsite can protect vulnerable communities from the impact of contaminants in drinking water. Ideally such devices would also be easy to dispose of so as to leave no trace, or have a detrimental effect on the environment. To this aim, we here report the first paper microbial fuel cell (pMFC) fabricated by screen-printing biodegradable carbon-based electrodes onto a single sheet of paper, and demonstrate its use as a shock sensor for bioactive compounds (e.g. formaldehyde) in water. We also show a simple route to enhance the sensor performance by folding back-to-back two pMFCs electrically connected in parallel. This promising proof of concept work can lead to a revolutionizing way of testing water at point of use, which is not only green, easy-to-operate and rapid, but is also affordable to all.

Concepts: Water, Electrochemistry, Toxicity, Electrolysis, Sustainability, Water quality, Fuel cell, Microbial fuel cell


The Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) is a bio-electrochemical transducer converting waste products into electricity using microbial communities. Cellular Automaton (CA) is a uniform array of finite-state machines that update their states in discrete time depending on states of their closest neighbors by the same rule. Arrays of MFCs could, in principle, act as massive-parallel computing devices with local connectivity between elementary processors. We provide a theoretical design of such a parallel processor by implementing CA in MFCs. We have chosen Conway’s Game of Life as the ‘benchmark’ CA because this is the most popular CA which also exhibits an enormously rich spectrum of patterns. Each cell of the Game of Life CA is realized using two MFCs. The MFCs are linked electrically and hydraulically. The model is verified via simulation of an electrical circuit demonstrating equivalent behaviours. The design is a first step towards future implementations of fully autonomous biological computing devices with massive parallelism. The energy independence of such devices counteracts their somewhat slow transitions-compared to silicon circuitry-between the different states during computation.

Concepts: Parallel computing, Fuel cell, Cellular automaton, Microbial fuel cell, Glossary of fuel cell terms, Life-like cellular automaton, John Horton Conway, Conway's Game of Life


The Editors of Microbial Cell Factories would like to thank all our Reviewers who have contributed to the journal in Volume 11 (2012).

Concepts: Microbial fuel cell, Newcastle upon Tyne, Editors


Extracellular electron transfer (EET) is a type of microbial respiration that enables electron transfer between microbial cells and extracellular solid materials, including naturally-occurring metal compounds and artificial electrodes. Microorganisms harboring EET abilities have received considerable attention for their various biotechnological applications, in addition to their contribution to global energy and material cycles. In this review, current knowledge on microbial EET and its application to diverse biotechnologies, including the bioremediation of toxic metals, recovery of useful metals, biocorrosion, and microbial electrochemical systems (microbial fuel cells and microbial electrosynthesis), were introduced. Two potential biotechnologies based on microbial EET, namely the electrochemical control of microbial metabolism and electrochemical stimulation of microbial symbiotic reactions (electric syntrophy), were also discussed.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Metabolism, Microbiology, Biotechnology, Electrolysis, Microorganism, Microbial fuel cell


Microbial fuel cell (MFC) is a promising technology for direct electricity generation from organics by microorganisms. The type of electron donors fed into MFCs affects the electrical performance, and mechanistic understanding of such effects is important to optimize the MFC performance. In this study, we used a model organism in MFCs, Shewanella oneidensis MR-1, and (13)C pathway analysis to investigate the role of formate in electricity generation and the related microbial metabolism. Our results indicated a synergistic effect of formate and lactate on electricity generation, and extra formate addition on the original lactate resulted in more electrical output than using formate or lactate as a sole electron donor. Based on the (13)C tracer analysis, we discovered decoupled cell growth and electricity generation in S. oneidensis MR-1 during co-utilization of lactate and formate (i.e., while the lactate was mainly metabolized to support the cell growth, the formate was oxidized to release electrons for higher electricity generation). To our best knowledge, this is the first time that (13)C tracer analysis was applied to study microbial metabolism in MFCs and it was demonstrated to be a valuable tool to understand the metabolic pathways affected by electron donors in the selected electrochemically-active microorganisms.

Concepts: Electron, Bacteria, Metabolism, Organism, Electrochemistry, Yeast, Fuel cell, Microbial fuel cell


A cathode is a critical factor that limits the practical application of microbial fuel cells (MFCs) in terms of cost and power generation. To develop a cost-effective cathode, we investigate a cathode preparation technique using nickel foam as a current collector, activated carbon as a catalyst and PTFE as a binder. The effects of the type and loading of conductive carbon, the type and loading of activated carbon, and PTFE loading on cathode performance are systematically studied by linear sweep voltammetry (LSV). The nickel foam cathode MFC produces a power density of 1190±50 mW m(-2), comparable with 1320 mW m(-2) from a typical carbon cloth Pt cathode MFC. However, the cost of a nickel foam activated carbon cathode is 1/30 of that of carbon cloth Pt cathode. The results indicate that a nickel foam cathode could be used in scaling up the MFC system.

Concepts: Electron, Analytical chemistry, Battery, Electrolyte, Diode, Activated carbon, Voltammetry, Microbial fuel cell


Microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology is a promising technology for electricity production together with simultaneous water treatment. Catalysts play an important role in deciding the MFC performance. In most reports, effect of catalyst - both type and quantity is not optimized. In this paper, synthesis of nanorods of MnO2-catalyst particles for application in Pt-free MFCs is reported. The effect of catalyst loading i.e., weight ratio, with respect to conducting element and binder has been optimized by employing large number of combinations. Using simple theoretical model, it is shown that too high (or low) concentration of catalysts result in loss of MFC performance. The operation of MFC has been investigated using domestic wastewater as source of bio-waste for obtaining real world situation. Maximum power density of ∼61mW/m(2) was obtained when weight ratio of catalyst and conducting species was 1:1. Suitable reasons are given to explain the outcomes.

Concepts: Water, Electrochemistry, Energy development, Fuel cell, Microbial fuel cell, Glossary of fuel cell terms, Electric power, Fuel cells


This communication reports for the first time the charging of a commercially available mobile phone, using Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) fed with real neat urine. The membrane-less MFCs were made out of ceramic material and employed plain carbon based electrodes.

Concepts: Battery, Silicon carbide, Mobile phone, Ceramic engineering, Microbial fuel cell, Base station, Push-button telephone, Turbine


We present a biologically inspired actuator exhibiting a novel pumping action. The design of the ‘artificial heartbeat’ actuator is inspired by physical principles derived from the structure and function of the human heart. The actuator employs NiTi artificial muscles and is powered by electrical energy generated by microbial fuel cells (MFCs). We describe the design and fabrication of the actuator and report the results of tests conducted to characterize its performance. This is the first artificial muscle-driven pump to be powered by MFCs fed on human urine. Results are presented in terms of the peak pumping pressure generated by the actuator, as well as for the volume of fluid transferred, when the actuator was powered by energy stored in a capacitor bank, which was charged by 24 MFCs fed on urine. The results demonstrate the potential for the artificial heartbeat actuator to be employed as a fluid circulation pump in future generations of MFC-powered robots (‘EcoBots’) that extract energy from organic waste. We also envisage that the actuator could in the future form part of a bio-robotic artwork or ‘bio-automaton’ that could help increase public awareness of research in robotics, bio-energy and biologically inspired design.

Concepts: Heart, Muscle, Future, Urea, Capacitor, Potential energy, Robotics, Microbial fuel cell


The current polymer-exchange membrane fuel cell technology cannot directly use biomass as fuel. Here we present a solar-induced hybrid fuel cell that is directly powered with natural polymeric biomasses, such as starch, cellulose, lignin, and even switchgrass and wood powders. The fuel cell uses polyoxometalates as the photocatalyst and charge carrier to generate electricity at low temperature. This solar-induced hybrid fuel cell combines some features of solar cells, fuel cells and redox flow batteries. The power density of the solar-induced hybrid fuel cell powered by cellulose reaches 0.72 mW cm(-2), which is almost 100 times higher than cellulose-based microbial fuel cells and is close to that of the best microbial fuel cells reported in literature. Unlike most cell technologies that are sensitive to impurities, the cell reported in this study is inert to most organic and inorganic contaminants present in the fuels.

Concepts: Enzyme, Electrochemistry, Cell wall, Biofuel, Energy development, Fuel cell, Microbial fuel cell, Glossary of fuel cell terms