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Theme 3 : Biofilms engineering for energy, synthesis and corrosion

Contact : barbora Lajoie et Benjamin Erable

Finding innovative solutions for new processes

Over the last few years, electro-active biofilms have been used in novel processes for bioelectrochemical synthesis. The choice was made in 2009 to engage in this innovative synthesis route and to announce the keyword “synthesis” as a new “sub-theme”.

Electrochemical bioreactors for the fundamental study of the interfaces between electrodes and electro-active biofilms.

Encouraging methodology and protocol sharing

- In 2009, the ANR project Bacteriopile (Bacteriofuel cell) coordinated by the department reached its term. The aim of this applied project was the use of electroactive marine biofilms to catalyze electrode reactions in a microbial fuel cell. A prototype was developed then tested and validated on a marine site for 6 months. From 2008 to 2012, the ANR project Agri-Elec proposed the production of electric energy using a microbial fuel cell associated to the intensification of a process to treat or recycle waste.
- This fruitful project (2 patents and 15 articles) raised a number of new scientific issues and clearly identified the hurdles to be overcome before the technology can be transferred. The hurdles in question concern both the cathode and the engineering of the electrochemical bioreactor, which are currently the object of two new ANR projects. The JCJC project Biocathinox started in 2011 and is a theoretical project on the comprehension and the optimization of microbial cathodes, (electrochemical reduction reactions catalysed by electroactive biofilms). The ANR project BioElec (BioME 2013), based on an engineering approach, proposes to associate the concept of the gas-diffusion cathode with that of the microbial cathode to overcome the obstacle of the low solubility of oxygen in water.

Air cathode microbial fuel cell (production: STI LGC).

- Production of hydrogen by microbial electrolysis: ANR project Défi H12 (2009- 2013), coordinated by the department, concluded in the experimental validation of a microbial electrolysis pilot developed conjointly with an engineering start-up 6T-MIC.
- Concerning the microbial electrosynthesis, the group is engaged since 2011, in a project for Investment in the Future piloted by IRSTEA and Suez Environnement into the use of electro-active biofilm for the direct synthesis of biomolecules (chemicals or synthons/building blocks) from electricity and/or CO2. Our first notable result concerned the synthesis of glycerol from CO2 driven by an electro-active biofilm of Geobacter sulfureducens on stainless steel electrodes. These results were protected by a patent in 2012 then published in 2013 [2]. A quite new part of our work concerns the electrochemical biosynthesis of antibiotics. This innovative project is in its early days, it is an interdisciplinary study involving the themes of the BIOSYM department working on biofilms, health, and fermentation. In 2012 it received financial support from LGC in the form of a PLUS project.

- The study of biocorrosion phenomena is highly multidisciplinary. Thus, to structure and defragment the domain on the European scale, a Marie-Curie network (FP7- PEOPLE-ITN-2008) entitled ‘BIOCOR Initial Training Network’ was set up under the coordination of the department in September 2009. It brings together 18 academic and industrial groups from 9 European countries.
- The main aim is to look for microbial species other than the known sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB), which can play a role in the corrosion of equipment. It was demonstrated, for the first time, that bacteria such as Geobacter sp could be either promoters or inhibitors of corrosion.
- Since 2011 a new collaborative project with ANDRA has started investigating the effects of biodeterioation during radioactive waste disposal (concrete degradation and corrosion of steel drums).

Observation en microscopie électronique à balayage (MEB) d’un biofilm microbien ayant colonisé la surface d’une électrode en carbone. (Appui technique : M.-L. De Solan).