Electro-fermentation: Sustainable bioproductions steered by electricity

Biotechnol Adv. 2022 Oct:59:107950. doi: 10.1016/j.biotechadv.2022.107950. Epub 2022 Mar 29.


The market of biobased products obtainable via fermentation processes has steadily increased over the past few years, driven by the need to create a decarbonized economy. To date, industrial fermentation (IF) employs either pure or mixed microbial cultures (MMC), whereby the type of the microbial catalysts and the used feedstock affect metabolic pathways and, in turn, the type of product(s) generated. In many cases, especially when dealing with MMC, the economic viability of IF is still hindered by factors such as the low attained product titer and selectivity, which ultimately challenge the downstream recovery and purification steps. In this context, electro-fermentation (EF) represents an innovative approach, based on the use of a polarized electrode interface to trigger changes in the rate, yield, titer or product distribution deriving from traditional fermentation processes. In principle, the electrode in EF can act as an electron acceptor (i.e., anodic electro-fermentation, AEF) or donor (i.e., cathodic electro-fermentation, CEF), or simply as a means to control the oxidation-reduction potential of the fermentation broth. However, the molecular and biochemical basis underlying EF are still largely unknown. This review provides a comprehensive overview of recent literature studies including both AEF and CEF examples using pure or mixed microbial cultures. A critical analysis of biochemical, microbiological, and engineering aspects which presently hamper the transition of the EF technology from the laboratory to the market is also presented.

Keywords: Anodic electro-fermentation; Bioelectrochemical system; Cathodic electro-fermentation; Electrode potential; Microbial electrochemical technology; Mixed microbial cultures; Pure culture; Redox mediator.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Electricity*
  • Electrodes
  • Fermentation