Influence of electrode material and stochastic factors on the performance and microbial community assembly in microbial electrochemical systems
Licentiate thesis, 2022
Microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) are systems with microbial communities in the form of biofilms on electrode surfaces. The electrogenic bacteria in the anode biofilm act as catalysts for the oxidization of organic compounds, leading to release of electrons, generation of electrical current, and production of hydrogen and methane at the cathode. In addition to production of energy carriers, MECs can be used for other applications as well; for example, as biosensors to monitor biochemical oxygen demand or toxicity. The performance of MECs is determined by both deterministic and stochastic factors influencing the microbial communities on the electrode surfaces, most of which as still poorly understood. In this thesis, the effects of electrode materials on microbial community assembly and MEC performance was investigated. Two experiments were carried out. In the first, three cathode materials (carbon nanoparticles, titanium, and steel) were compared. In the second, three anode materials (carbon cloth, graphene, and nickel) were compared. The cathode materials had no significant effect on the performance of the MECs, as opposed to the anode materials where carbon cloth MECs had the highest current density and the shortest lag time during startup. The differences seen in lag time of replicate systems at the start of the experiment indicated a stochastic initial attachment of the electrogenic bacteria on the anode. Different microbial communities develop in the biofilms on the anodes and cathodes. Electrogens from the Desulfobacterota phylum dominated the anode, while various hydrogenotrophic methanogens, e.g., Methanobacterium, were found to dominate on the cathodes. Diversity and null model analysis of the electrode communities highlighted stochasticity and not electrode material as the important factor in the community assembly. Network analysis showed that the cathode communities had fewer negative interactions between taxa in comparison to the anode. Since hydrogen gas generated at the cathode surface can diffuse through the biofilm, all microorganisms on the cathode have access to the substrate, reducing the need for competition between species. In contrast, electrogens require a short distance to the anode to be able to use it as electron acceptor. Limited space on the anode and competition between electrogens shaped the anode communities and explain the higher number of negative interactions observed. Based on the findings in this thesis, it is suggested that stochastic factors have more influence than electrode material on the anode community even though there is a selective pressure for electrogenic bacteria.
microbial community assembly