Metabolic modeling of spatial heterogeneity of biofilms in microbial fuel cells reveals substrate limitations in electrical current generation Academic Article uri icon


  • Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) have been proposed as an alternative energy resource for the conversion of organic compounds to electricity. In an MFC, microorganisms such as Geobacter sulfurreducens form an anode-associated biofilm that can completely oxidize organic matter (electron donor) to carbon dioxide with direct electron transfer to the anode (electron acceptor). Mathematical models are useful in analyzing biofilm processes; however, existing models rely on Nernst-Monod type expressions, and evaluate extracellular processes separated from the intracellular metabolism of the microorganism. Thus, models that combine both extracellular and intracellular components, while addressing spatial heterogeneity, are essential for improved representation of biofilm processes. The goal of this work is to develop a model that integrates genome-scale metabolic models with the model of biofilm environment. This integrated model shows the variations of electrical current production and biofilm thickness under the presence/absence of NH4 in the bulk solution, and under varying maintenance energy demands. Further, sensitivity analysis suggested that conductivity is not limiting electrical current generation and that increasing cell density can lead to enhanced current generation. In addition, the modeling results also highlight instances such as the transformation into respiring cells, where the mechanism of electrical current generation during biofilm development is not yet clearly understood.


publication date

  • 2014