Electrode material studies and cell voltage characteristics of the in situ water electrolysis performed in a pH-neutral electrolyte in bioelectrochemical systems

Heliyon. 2019 May 14;5(5):e01690. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e01690. eCollection 2019 May.


Hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria (HOB) have been shown to be promising micro-organisms for the reduction of carbon dioxide to a wide range of value-added products in bioelectrochemical systems with in situ water electrolysis of the cultivation medium, also known as a hybrid biological-inorganic systems (HBI). However, scaling up of this process requires overcoming the inherent constraints of the low energy efficiency partly associated with the pH-neutral electrolyte with low conductivity. Most of the research in the field is concentrated on the bacterial cultivation, whereas the analysis and evaluation of the electrode material performance have received little attention in the literature so far. Therefore, in the present work, in situ electrolysis of a pH-neutral medium for HOB cultivation was performed with different combinations of electrode materials. Besides conventional electrode types, electrodes with coatings made of earth-abundant cobalt and a nickel-iron alloy, known for their catalytic activity for the kinetically sluggish oxygen evolution reaction (OER), were prepared and tested as potential substitutes for catalysts made of precious metals. The cultivation of HOB with in situ water electrolysis has been successfully tested in a small scale electrobioreactor in order to support the experimental results. A simplified water electrolysis model was developed and applied to evaluate the current-voltage characteristics of an bioelectrochemical system prototype. Application of the developed model allows quantitative evaluation and comparison of reversible, ohmic, and activation overvoltages of different electrode sets. The modeling results were found to agree well with the experimental data. The developed model and the data gathered can be applied to further investigation, simulation, and optimization of HBI systems.

Keywords: Bioengineering; Electrochemistry; Materials chemistry.