Microorganisms obtain energy by oxidizing an electron donor with low potential and reducing an electron acceptor with higher potential. Recently, it was discovered that some microorganisms can utilize a solid electrode as electron donor or acceptor. We will investigate microbial electrosynthesis, which refers to a process where microorganisms accept electrons from a cathode and synthesize a chemical by reducing a soluble electron acceptor. For example, carbon dioxide can be reduced to acetate. Currently, very little is known about electrosynthesis functions in microorganisms. Our project aims to answer: Which microorganisms can carry out the process? How do they obtain electrons from the cathode surface? What products can they produce? We will enrich microbial cultures from environmental samples using a cathode as electron donor and carbon dioxide as electron acceptor. We will use electrochemical methods to investigate mechanisms of electron transfer and molecular methods to examine the microbial community structure of the enrichment cultures. We will also analyze how various conditions affect the chemical products synthesized by the microorganisms and we will develop a new isolation method specifically targeting electrochemically active microorganisms in the enrichment cultures. Our project will significantly advance our understanding of a newly discovered microbial respiration process, which potentially will result in new biotechnology applications.
Professor at Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Water Environment Technology
Funding Chalmers participation during 2013–2016