• biohydrogen;
  • microbial fuel cell;
  • photoheterotrophic bacteria;
  • photosynthesis;
  • Rhodobacter sphaeroides


Aims:  To understand factors that impact solar-powered electricity generation by Rhodobacter sphaeroides in a single-chamber microbial fuel cell (MFC).

Methods and Results:  The MFC used submerged platinum-coated carbon paper anodes and cathodes of the same material, in contact with atmospheric oxygen. Power was measured by monitoring voltage drop across an external resistance. Biohydrogen production and in situ hydrogen oxidation were identified as the main mechanisms for electron transfer to the MFC circuit. The nitrogen source affected MFC performance, with glutamate and nitrate-enhancing power production over ammonium.

Conclusions:  Power generation depended on the nature of the nitrogen source and on the availability of light. With light, the maximum point power density was 790 mW m−2 (2·9 W m−3). In the dark, power output was less than 0·5 mW m−2 (0·008 W m−3). Also, sustainable electrochemical activity was possible in cultures that did not receive a nitrogen source.

Significance and Impact of the Study:  We show conditions at which solar energy can serve as an alternative energy source for MFC operation. Power densities obtained with these one-chamber solar-driven MFC were comparable with densities reported in nonphotosynthetic MFC and sustainable for longer times than with previous work on two-chamber systems using photosynthetic bacteria.