Biophotovoltaics: oxygenic photosynthetic organisms in the world of bioelectrochemical systems
The field of bioelectrochemical system (BES) research includes a wide range of emerging technologies that utilise microbes to catalyze anodic and/or cathodic reactions within a fuel cell setup, and has developed greatly in the last 2–3 years. Although the vast majority of BESs utilise organic substrates as a fuel source (e.g. microbial fuel cells), several systems have been developed that are fuelled by light energy. In this review we focus on and contextualise a specific subset of light-harvesting BESs, which we have called biophotovoltaic systems (BPVs). BPVs utilise oxygenic photosynthetic organisms, such as microalgal and cyanobacterial species, to harvest light energy to generate current, critically, in the absence of an organic feedstock. Here we discuss the state-of-the-art for all light-harvesting BESs and present a novel classification system to illustrate how BPVs integrate into the broad fields of BES and photovoltaic research. We compare and contrast the present understanding of electron transfer pathways in systems that use heterotrophic microbes with those in cyanobacteria-based BPVs. Finally we present, for the first time, an estimate of the achievable power outputs of this emerging technology.