Monitoring electron and proton diffusion flux through three-dimensional, paper-based, variable biofilm and liquid media layers
The goal of this work is to pursue analytical approaches that elucidate electron and proton diffusion inside the Shewanella oneidensis biofilm and bulk liquid, which will inevitably promote the translation of Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) technology for renewable, “green energy” solutions that are in demand to sustain the world's ever-increasing energy demands and to mitigate the depletion of current resources. This study provides a novel strategy for monitoring electron/proton fluxes in 3-D multi-laminate structures of paper as a scaffold to support S. oneidensis biofilms and bulk media liquid. Multiple layers of paper containing bacterial cells and/or media are stacked to form a layered 3-D model of the overall biofilm/bulk liquid construct. Mass transport of electrons and protons into this 3-D system can be quantified along with the exploration of microbial energy production. Assembly of a 3D paper stack can be modular and allows us to control the thickness of the overall biofilm/bulk liquid construct with the different diffusion distances of the electrons/protons through the stack. By measuring the current generated from the 3-D stack, the electron and proton diffusivity through biofilms were quantitatively investigated. We found that (i) the diffusion length of the electrons/protons in the S. oneidensis biofilm/bulk liquid is a determinant factor for the MFC performance, (ii) the electron transfer through the endogenous mediators of S. oneidensis can be a more critical factor to limit the current/power generation of the MFCs than the proton transfer in the MFC system and (iii) the thicker biofilm allows higher and longer current generation but requires more time to reach a peak current value and increases the total energy loss of the MFC system.