Microbial battery for efficient energy recovery

Edited by Harry B. Gray, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, and approved August 9, 2013 (received for review April 18, 2013)
September 16, 2013
110 (40) 15925-15930


This work introduces a microbial battery for recovery of energy from reservoirs of organic matter, such as wastewater. Microorganisms at an anode oxidize dissolved organic substances, releasing electrons to an external circuit, where power can be extracted. The electrons then enter a solid-state electrode that remains solid as electrons accumulate within it. The solid-state electrode is periodically removed from the battery, oxidized, and reinstalled for sustained power production. Molecular oxygen is not introduced into the battery, and ion-exchange membranes are avoided, enabling high efficiencies of energy recovery.


By harnessing the oxidative power of microorganisms, energy can be recovered from reservoirs of less-concentrated organic matter, such as marine sediment, wastewater, and waste biomass. Left unmanaged, these reservoirs can become eutrophic dead zones and sites of greenhouse gas generation. Here, we introduce a unique means of energy recovery from these reservoirs—a microbial battery (MB) consisting of an anode colonized by microorganisms and a reoxidizable solid-state cathode. The MB has a single-chamber configuration and does not contain ion-exchange membranes. Bench-scale MB prototypes were constructed from commercially available materials using glucose or domestic wastewater as electron donor and silver oxide as a coupled solid-state oxidant electrode. The MB achieved an efficiency of electrical energy conversion of 49% based on the combustion enthalpy of the organic matter consumed or 44% based on the organic matter added. Electrochemical reoxidation of the solid-state electrode decreased net efficiency to about 30%. This net efficiency of energy recovery (unoptimized) is comparable to methane fermentation with combined heat and power.

Continue Reading


X.X. acknowledges the support from the Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship.

Supporting Information

Appendix (PDF)
Supporting Information


International Energy Agency (2012) Key World Energy Statistics (Int Energy Agency, Paris).
British Petroleum (2011) Statistical Review of World Energy (Brit Pet, London).
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001) Climate change 2001: The scientific basis (Intergov Panel Clim Change, Cambridge United Kingdom).
J Tiedje, T Donohue, Microbes in the energy grid. Science 320, 985 (2008).
Yen TF ed (1977) Chemistry of Marine Sediments (Ann Arbor Sci, Ann Arbor, MI).
BE Logan, K Rabaey, Conversion of wastes into bioelectricity and chemicals by using microbial electrochemical technologies. Science 337, 686–690 (2012).
PL McCarty, J Bae, J Kim, Domestic wastewater treatment as a net energy producer—can this be achieved? Environ Sci Technol 45, 7100–7106 (2011).
Sims REH ed (2003) Bioenergy Options for a Cleaner Environment (Elsevier, Amsterdam).
Ladanai S, Vinterbäck J (2009) Global Potential of Sustainable Biomass for Energy (Swed Univ Agric Sci, Uppsala).
Madigan MT, Martinko JM (2006) Brock Biology of Microorganisms (Pearson Ed, Upper Saddle River, NJ).
BE Rittmann, PL McCarty Environmental Biotechnology: Principles and Applications (McGraw-Hill, New York, 2001).
Environmental Protection Agency (2007) Opportunities for and Benefits of Combined Heat and Power at Wastewater Treatment Facilities (Environ Prot Agency, Washington, DC).
SK Chaudhuri, DR Lovley, Electricity generation by direct oxidation of glucose in mediatorless microbial fuel cells. Nat Biotechnol 21, 1229–1232 (2003).
LM Tender, et al., Harnessing microbially generated power on the seafloor. Nat Biotechnol 20, 821–825 (2002).
DR Bond, DE Holmes, LM Tender, DR Lovley, Electrode-reducing microorganisms that harvest energy from marine sediments. Science 295, 483–485 (2002).
H Liu, R Ramnarayanan, BE Logan, Production of electricity during wastewater treatment using a single chamber microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 38, 2281–2285 (2004).
BE Logan, Exoelectrogenic bacteria that power microbial fuel cells. Nat Rev Microbiol 7, 375–381 (2009).
K Rabaey, W Verstraete, Microbial fuel cells: Novel biotechnology for energy generation. Trends Biotechnol 23, 291–298 (2005).
MLB Rao, PN Anantharaman, PB Mathur, Production of positive plates for silver oxide-zinc batteries. Ind Eng Chem Prod Res Dev 2, 155–157 (1963).
S Cheng, H Liu, BE Logan, Increased power generation in a continuous flow MFC with advective flow through the porous anode and reduced electrode spacing. Environ Sci Technol 40, 2426–2432 (2006).
B Logan, S Cheng, V Watson, G Estadt, Graphite fiber brush anodes for increased power production in air-cathode microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 41, 3341–3346 (2007).
X Xie, et al., Carbon nanotube-coated macroporous sponge for microbial fuel cell electrodes. Energy Environ. Sci. 5, 5265–5270 (2012).
X Xie, et al., Graphene-sponge as high-performance low-cost anodes for microbial fuel cells. Energy Environ. Sci. 5, 6862–6866 (2012).
G Reguera, et al., Extracellular electron transfer via microbial nanowires. Nature 435, 1098–1101 (2005).
YA Gorby, et al., Electrically conductive bacterial nanowires produced by Shewanella oneidensis strain MR-1 and other microorganisms. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103, 11358–11363 (2006).
Haynes WM ed (2013) Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL), 94th Ed.
A de Rooij, The oxidation of silver by atomic oxygen. Eur. Space Agency J 13, 363–382 (1989).
C Rehren, M Muhler, X Bao, R Schlogl, G Ertl, The interaction of silver with oxygen: an investigation with thermal desorption and photoelectron spectroscopy. Z Phys Chem 174, 11–52 (1991).
VA Lavrenko, AI Malyshevskaya, LI Kuznetsova, VF Litvinenko, VN Pavlikov, Features of high-temperature oxidation in air of silver and alloy Ag-Cu, and adsorption of oxygen on silver. Powder Metall Met Ceram 45, 476–480 (2006).
C-N Lok, et al., Silver nanoparticles: Partial oxidation and antibacterial activities. J Biol Inorg Chem 12, 527–534 (2007).

Information & Authors


Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 110 | No. 40
October 1, 2013
PubMed: 24043800


Submission history

Published online: September 16, 2013
Published in issue: October 1, 2013


  1. bioelectrochemical system
  2. microbial fuel cells
  3. exoelectrogens
  4. renewable energy


X.X. acknowledges the support from the Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship.


This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.



Xing Xie
Departments of aCivil and Environmental Engineering,
Materials Science and Engineering, and
Meng Ye
Departments of aCivil and Environmental Engineering,
Po-Chun Hsu
Materials Science and Engineering, and
Nian Liu
Chemistry, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305; and
Craig S. Criddle1 [email protected]
Departments of aCivil and Environmental Engineering,
Materials Science and Engineering, and
Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Menlo Park, CA 94025


To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected].
Author contributions: X.X., C.S.C., and Y.C. designed research; X.X., M.Y., P.-C.H., and N.L. performed research; X.X., M.Y., C.S.C., and Y.C. analyzed data; and X.X., M.Y., P.-C.H., N.L., C.S.C., and Y.C. wrote the paper.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Metrics & Citations


Note: The article usage is presented with a three- to four-day delay and will update daily once available. Due to ths delay, usage data will not appear immediately following publication. Citation information is sourced from Crossref Cited-by service.

Citation statements



If you have the appropriate software installed, you can download article citation data to the citation manager of your choice. Simply select your manager software from the list below and click Download.

Cited by


    View Options

    View options

    PDF format

    Download this article as a PDF file


    Get Access

    Login options

    Check if you have access through your login credentials or your institution to get full access on this article.

    Personal login Institutional Login

    Recommend to a librarian

    Recommend PNAS to a Librarian

    Purchase options

    Purchase this article to get full access to it.

    Single Article Purchase

    Microbial battery for efficient energy recovery
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 110
    • No. 40
    • pp. 15851-16283







    Share article link

    Share on social media