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Electrofuel Production Using Ammonia or Iron as Redox Mediators in Reverse Microbial Fuel Cells

Originally delivered May 29, 2012
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The production of electrofuels requires the efficient transport of electrons from an electrochemical system into a biological system.  We have approached this challenge by identifying natural chemical mediators that

  1. can be easily reduced electrochemically and
  2. are natural substrates for different bacterial strains, thus eliminating the need to engineer this aspect of primary metabolism in the biological hosts. 

In our first project we have constructed a reverse microbial fuel cell using the ammonia oxidizing bacteria, N. europaea. These cells grow planktonically and they efficiently oxidize ammonia to nitrite while fixing carbon dioxide.  We have developed an electrochemical reactor to reduce the nitrite back to ammonia so that we are producing biomass from electricity and air.  We have recently engineered the N. europaea cells to produce isobutanol, which is a transportation infrastructure compatible biofuel. 

In a second project we are working with A. ferrooxidans, which is an iron oxidizing bacteria used in biomining operations.  The oxidized iron can be readily reduced electrochemically, and efforts are underway to engineer these cells to make isobutanol as well.  As these processes are developed and optimized, they may be able to produce biofuels and other petroleum derived chemicals from electricity and air.


Scott Banta

Scott Banta Ph.D. is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Columbia University.  He received his B.S.E. degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Rutgers University.  He did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Shriners and Massachusetts General Hospitals and Harvard Medical School.  He began his faculty career in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Columbia University in 2004 and his research has focused on the engineering of proteins and peptides for various applications in areas including biocatalysis,...Read more

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