Photosynthetic biofilms in pure culture harness solar energy in a mediatorless bio-photovoltaic cell (BPV) system

A.J. McCormick, C.J. Howe, P. Bombelli, A.M. Scott, A.J. Philips, A.C. Fisher, A.G. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Microbial fuel cells are an emerging technology for converting organic substrates into electrical power. Recent research has shown that biofilms of some bacterial species are capable of self-mediated extracellular electron transfer. The prospect of exploiting this trait in photoautotrophic microbes that do not require an organic substrate has important implications for the future development of renewable solar energy technologies. Here we report on light-driven electrical power generated with biofilms grown from photosynthetic fresh water or marine species without the addition of an artificial electron-shuttling mediator. Green alga (Chlorella vulgaris, Dunaliella tertiolecta) or cyanobacteria (Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803, Synechococcus sp. WH 5701) strains were grown directly on a transparent, conductive anode (indium tin oxide-coated polyethylene terephthalate) and power generation under light and dark conditions was evaluated using a single-chamber bio-photovoltaic cell (BPV) system. Increased power outputs were observed for all strains upon illumination, with the largest light effect observed for Synechococcus (maximum 10.3 mW m total power output recorded under 10 W m white light). Further experiments conducted with Synechococcus and C. vulgaris showed that photosynthetic oxygen evolution rates were consistent with BPV power outputs under different light regimes (red, green and blue light), indicating a direct link between power output and photosynthetic activity. Biofilm power generation in these BPV devices was self-sustained for several weeks and was highly sensitive to ambient light levels. When connected in series, four BPVs (each 0.011 m ) generated enough power to run a commercial digital clock.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4699-4709
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy & Environmental Science
Issue number11
Early online date27 Sept 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011


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