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Minimizing losses in bio-electrochemical systems: the road to applications


Bio-electrochemical systems (BESs) enable microbial catalysis of electrochemical reactions. Plain electrical power production combined with wastewater treatment by microbial fuel cells (MFCs) has been the primary application purpose for BESs. However, large-scale power production and a high chemical oxygen demand conversion rates must be achieved at a benchmark cost to make MFCs economical competitive in this context. Recently, a number of valuable oxidation or reduction reactions demonstrating the versatility of BESs have been described. Indeed, BESs can produce hydrogen, bring about denitrification, or reductive dehalogenation. Moreover, BESs also appear to be promising in the field of online biosensors. To effectively apply BESs in practice, both biological and electrochemical losses need to be further minimized. At present, the costs of reactor materials have to be decreased, and the volumetric biocatalyst activity in the systems has to be increased substantially. Furthermore, both the ohmic cell resistance and the pH gradients need to be minimized. In this review, these losses and constraints are discussed from an electrochemical viewpoint. Finally, an overview of potential applications and innovative research lines is given for BESs.

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The useful comments of Nico Boon are kindly acknowledged. This research was funded by a PhD grant (IWT grant 53305) of the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation through Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT-Vlaanderen), a postdoctoral grant (EX2006-0963) from the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science and the Flanders Research Foundation (FWO project G.0172.05).

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Correspondence to Willy Verstraete.

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Clauwaert, P., Aelterman, P., Pham, T.H. et al. Minimizing losses in bio-electrochemical systems: the road to applications. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 79, 901–913 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00253-008-1522-2

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  • Biofuel cell
  • Bioenergy
  • Biocatalyzed electrolysis
  • Overpotentials
  • Biocatalysts
  • Ohmic resistance