We demonstrate that the coulombic efficiency (CE) of a microbial electrolytic cell (MEC) fueled with a fermentable substrate, ethanol, depended on the interactions among anode respiring bacteria (ARB) and other groups of micro-organisms, particularly fermenters and methanogens. When we allowed methanogenesis, we obtained a CE of 60%, and 26% of the electrons were lost as methane. The only methanogenic genus detected by quantitative real-time PCR was the hydrogenotrophic genus, Methanobacteriales, which presumably consumed all the hydrogen produced during ethanol fermentation (∼30% of total electrons). We did not detect acetoclastic methanogenic genera, indicating that acetate-oxidizing ARB out-competed acetoclastic methanogens. Current production and methane formation increased in parallel, suggesting a syntrophic interaction between methanogens and acetate-consuming ARB. When we inhibited methanogenesis with 50 mM 2-bromoethane sulfonic acid (BES), the CE increased to 84%, and methane was not produced. With no methanogenesis, the electrons from hydrogen were converted to electrical current, either directly by the ARB or channeled to acetate through homoacetogenesis. This illustrates the key role of competition among the various H2 scavengers and that, when the hydrogen-consuming methanogens were present, they out-competed the other groups. These findings also demonstrate the importance of a three-way syntrophic relationship among fermenters, acetate-consuming ARB, and a H2 consumer during the utilization of a fermentable substrate. To obtain high coulombic efficiencies with fermentable substrates in a mixed population, methanogens must be suppressed to promote new interactions at the anode that ultimately channel the electrons from hydrogen to current.
- Anode respiring bacteria
- Microbial fuel cells
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology