In microbial fuel cells and electrolysis cells (MXCs), anode-respiring bacteria (ARB) oxidize organic substrates to produce electrical current. In order to develop an electrical current, ARB must transfer electrons to a solid anode through extracellular electron transfer (EET). ARB use various EET mechanisms to transfer electrons to the anode, including direct contact through outer-membrane proteins, diffusion of soluble electron shuttles, and electron transport through solid components of the extracellular biofilm matrix. In this review, we perform a novel kinetic analysis of each EET mechanism by analyzing the results available in the literature. Our goal is to evaluate how well each EET mechanism can produce a high current density (>10 A m-2) without a large anode potential loss (less than a few hundred millivolts), which are feasibility goals of MXCs. Direct contact of ARB to the anode cannot achieve high current densities due to the limited number of cells that can come in direct contact with the anode. Slow diffusive flux of electron shuttles at commonly observed concentrations limits current generation and results in high potential losses, as has been observed experimentally. Only electron transport through a solid conductive matrix can explain observations of high current densities and low anode potential losses. Thus, a study of the biological components that create a solid conductive matrix is of critical importance for understanding the function of ARB.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalFEMS Microbiology Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Electron shuttles
  • Microbial electrolysis cells
  • Microbial fuel cells
  • Microbial nanowires
  • Nernst-Monod kinetics
  • Solid conductive matrix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Infectious Diseases


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