Electromicrobiology: Future Electrical Attractions
Research in electromicrobiology has grown exponentially during the past decade. This has been due in part to the interest in new energy technologies, but it also is driven by the search for better waste treatment, water reclamation and desalination, sensors, and more. Most recently there has been new endeavors aimed at understanding how external electron transfer by microbes occurs and how it may contribute to the action of microbes in the environment, even at relatively long (cm) distances.
These processes certainly will influence the development of the technologies noted above, but there is another area within electromicrobiology that may depend upon external electron transfer, and that is the microbial electrosynthesis of useful fuels and chemicals. Biocathodes are at the heart of electrosynthesis and require microbes to use the cathode as an electron donor and then catalyze the synthesis of chemicals. Waste CO2 may be used as a carbon source for the production of organic molecules, thereby avoiding the use of large arable land, and the technology can be entirely sustainable and carbon neutral if a renewable source of electricity is used.
Biocathodes are capable of producing H2 gas, methane, and acetic acid and researchers are examining ways to expand the number of compounds that may be synthesized from CO2. Alternatively, a complex carbon feedstock may be converted into even more useful chemical by microbes in a biocathode.
Dr. May and his colleagues have made several discoveries in anode reduction by thermophiles, electrotreatment of hazardous compounds, and in the production of chemicals and fuels by electrosynthesis. This seminar will focus on where the research is going, and can go in the future, and will discuss some of the broader aspects of electromicrobiology and electrosynthesis in addition to the specific discoveries from Dr. May’s research.