Microbial Electrochemical Cells

Exploring how microorganisms that produce electricity can benefit society

PictureIn partnership with the TorresKrajmalnik-Brown, and Marcus teams, the Rittmann group focuses on fundamental and applied research related to microbial electrochemistry.  Anode-respiring bacteria (ARB) attach to an electrode and produce current for respiration, as the anode serves as their local electron acceptor.  Many fundamental questions are still unanswered regarding how ARB transport electrons through thick biofilms, sometimes over 100 micrometers, to the electrode.  In microbial electrochemical cells (MXCs), ARB work in syntrophy with fermenting bacteria and homo-acetogenic bacteria to convert complex organic compounds, such as wastes, into electrical power or valuable products.  Our group tackles fundamental understanding of ARB biofilms, focusing on transport processes and the development and optimization of MXC technologies.  

The Rittmann lab focuses on four areas of MXC research.  First, we are characterizing novel ARB like Thermincola ferriacetica, a thermophilic bacteria which demonstrates the potential to use a variety of substrates directly.  Second, we explore syntrophic relationships between ARB and other microorganisms to improve energy production.  Third, we are exploring the cathode part of MXCs, which is where the major potential losses occur and the greatest possibility for improving performance lies. Finally, the Rittmann lab is helping developing MXC lab prototypes and mathematical models with the goal of developing MXCs for field application.