Bacteria in synthetic nets: more stable than natural biofilms
The material developed by the research group led by Prof. Dr. Ruth Freitag (Process Biotechnology) and Prof. Dr. Andreas Greiner (Macromolecular Chemistry) is a biocomposite: a hydrogel, to be exact. It is a network of tiny polymer fibres containing a single type of bacteria, the metabolisms of which can continue generating power without interruption. However, the amount of power produced is considerably higher: “Our biofilm contains only one type of bacteria, namely Shewanella oneidensis. The electrical performance of a fuel cell with this film is twice as high as when bacteria of this species produce a natural biofilm,” explained Patrick Kaiser (M.Sc.), a doctoral researcher in Bayreuth and one of the authors of the recently published study.
There is also a further advantage to this performance enhancement: energy is produced reliably and predictably, since the concentration of bacteria is determined from the outset in the artificial biofilm. In contrast, natural biofilms are released in a way that is difficult to control, making them less stable. The Bayreuth scientists’ new biocomposite thus makes fuel cells considerably easier to use.
The biocomposite was produced on the campus of the University of Bayreuth via the electro-spinning of polymer fibres that combine to form a fleece. “Nowadays, electro-spinning of fleece is a widely used technology. No additional production steps are required to embed the bacteria,” added Steffen Reich (M.Sc.), who wrote his doctoral thesis in Bayreuth on the encapsulation of bacteria in polymers.
Funding from a Bavarian project group
The newly published findings on microbial fuel cells stem from the project “Biofilms for Process Intensification”, which belongs to the project group “Resource-Conserving Biotechnology in Bavaria – BayBiotech”. This group has received a total of around two million euros in funding from the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection since 2015.