Plant microbial fuel cell: Mechanistic characterization

The Plant Microbial Fuel Cell is a novel technology in which organic matter is converted into electricity using living plants and bacteria in the soil. Potential applications include desalination of saline and brackish waters, electricity production, methane reduction, and nature conservation. The technology therefore addresses different societal challenges such as the global energy transition, water scarcity, connecting remote communities and sustainable food production. The technology can be applied in all (constructed) wetlands or marine environments without harming the ecosystem or altering the aesthetics of the area. And since no external energy storage or input is necessary, the technology can be applied in remote areas without electrical infrastructure, keeping the costs low.

Technological Principle

The plant microbial fuel cell is a fuel cell that utilizes organic matter that is available in wetland systems. This organic matter can become available in the form of exudation (directly excreted by plant-roots) or by other mechanisms such as bacterial conversion, hydrolysis or rhizodeposition in general. Some of this will react with oxygen, also released by plant roots. Micro-organisms in the anaerobic soil of marshes can convert the residual exudates from the roots of plants or dead plant material into CO2, protons and electrons. These electrons can be harvested by placing an anode in proximity of the micro-organisms which is connected through an external circuit to another electrode where a reduction reaction is taking place. By reducing oxygen and protons to water at the cathode, the electrons will flow through the circuit as a result of the potential difference.


Research Challenge

In this research project we will aim at understanding some of the underlying mechanisms that are suspected to hinder or be of significant importance to the working of the plant microbial fuel cell. The results from this research can be brought directly into practice through different adjacent projects and companies that are involved.