A biofilm of Geobacter sulfurreducens will grow on an anode surface and catalyze the generation of an electrical current by oxidizing acetate and utilizing the anode as its metabolic terminal electron acceptor. Here we report qualitative analysis of cyclic voltammetry of anodes modified with biofilms of G. sulfurreducens strains DL1 and KN400 to predict possible rate-limiting steps in current generation. Strain KN400 generates approximately 2 to 8-fold greater current than strain DL1 depending upon the electrode material, enabling comparative electrochemical analysis to study the mechanism of current generation. This analysis is based on our recently reported electrochemical model for biofilm-catalyzed current generation expanded here to a five step model; Step 1 is mass transport of acetate, carbon dioxide and protons into and out of the biofilm, Step 2 is microbial turnover of acetate to carbon dioxide and protons, Step 3 is the non-concerted, 1-electron reduction of 8 equivalents of electron transfer (ET) mediator, Step 4 is extracellular electron transfer (EET) through the biofilm to the electrode surface, and Step 5 is the reversible oxidation of reduced mediator by the electrode. Five idealized voltammetric current vs. potential dependencies (voltammograms) are derived, one for when each step in the model is assumed to limit catalytic current. Comparison to experimental voltammetry of DL1 and KN400 biofilm-modified anodes suggests that for both strains, the microbial oxidation of acetate (Step 2) is fast compared to microbial reduction of ET mediator (Step 3), and either Step 3 or EET through the biofilm (Step 4) limits catalytic current generation. The possible limitation of catalytic current by Step 4 is consistent with proton concentration gradients observed within these biofilms and finite thicknesses achieved by these biofilms. The model presented here has been universally designed for application to biofilms other than G. sulfurreducens and could serve as a platform for future quantitative voltammetric analysis of non-corrosive anode and cathode reactions catalyzed by microorganisms.
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