, Volume 76, Issue 1, pp 113–139 | Cite as

Understanding the Anodic Mechanism of a Seafloor Fuel Cell: Interactions Between Geochemistry and Microbial Activity

  • Natacha Ryckelynck
  • Hilmar A. StecherIII
  • Clare E. ReimersEmail author


Seafloor fuel cells made with graphite electrodes generate electricity by promoting electron transfer in response to a natural voltage difference (−0.7 to −0.8 V) between anoxic sediments and overlying oxic seawater. Geochemical impacts of a seafloor fuel cell on sediment solids and porewaters were examined to identify the anodic mechanisms and substrates available for current production. In an estuarine environment with little dissolved sulfide, solid-phase acid volatile sulfide and Cr2+-reducible sulfur minerals decreased significantly toward the anode after 7 months of nearly continuous energy harvesting. Porewater iron and sulfate increased by millimolar amounts. Scanning electron microscope images showed a biofilm overcoating the anode, and electron microprobe analyses revealed accumulations of sulfur, iron, silicon and phosphorus at the electrode surface. Sulfur deposition was also observed on a laboratory fuel cell anode used to generate electricity with only dissolved sulfide as an electron donor. Moreover, current densities and voltages displayed by these purely chemical cells were similar to the values measured with field devices. These results indicate that electron transfer to seafloor fuel cells can readily result in the oxidation of dissolved and solid-phase forms of reduced sulfur producing mainly S0 which deposits at the electrode surface. This oxidation product is consistent with the observed enrichment of bacteria most closely related to Desulfobulbus/Desulfocapsa genera within the anode biofilm, and its presence is proposed to promote a localized biogeochemical cycle whereby biofilm bacteria regenerate sulfate and sulfide. This electron-shuttling mechanism may co-occur while these or other bacteria use the anode directly as a terminal electron acceptor.


Anoxic sediments Energy production Fuel cell Microbial activity Pyrite Sulfur 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natacha Ryckelynck
    • 1
  • Hilmar A. StecherIII
    • 2
  • Clare E. Reimers
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Oceanic and Atmospheric SciencesOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.College of Oceanic and Atmospheric SciencesOregon State University, Hatfield Marine Science CenterNewportUSA

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