Comparing theoretical and practical biomass yields calls for revisiting thermodynamic growth models for electroactive microorganisms

Benjamin Korth*, João Pereira, Tom Sleutels, Falk Harnisch, Annemiek ter Heijne

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Research on electroactive microorganisms (EAM) often focuses either on their physiology and the underlying mechanisms of extracellular electron transfer or on their application in microbial electrochemical technologies (MET). Thermodynamic understanding of energy conversions related to growth and activity of EAM has received only a little attention. In this study, we aimed to prove the hypothesized restricted energy harvest of EAM by determining biomass yields by monitoring growth of acetate-fed biofilms presumably enriched in Geobacter, using optical coherence tomography, at three anode potentials and four acetate concentrations. Experiments were concurrently simulated using a refined thermodynamic model for EAM. Neither clear correlations were observed between biomass yield and anode potential nor acetate concentration, albeit the statistical significances are limited, mainly due to the observed experimental variances. The experimental biomass yield based on acetate consumption (YX/ac = 37 ± 9 mgCODbiomass gCODac−1) was higher than estimated by modeling, indicating limitations of existing growth models to predict yields of EAM. In contrast, the modeled biomass yield based on catabolic energy harvest was higher than the biomass yield from experimental data (YX/cat = 25.9 ± 6.8 mgCODbiomass kJ−1), supporting restricted energy harvest of EAM and indicating a role of not considered energy sinks. This calls for an adjusted growth model for EAM, including, e.g., the microbial electrochemical Peltier heat to improve the understanding and modeling of their energy metabolism. Furthermore, the reported biomass yields are important parameters to design strategies for influencing the interactions between EAM and other microorganisms and allowing more realistic feasibility assessments of MET.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120279
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2023


  • Biomass yield
  • Electroactive microorganisms
  • Extracellular electron transfer
  • Microbial electrochemical technologies
  • Restricted energy harvest
  • Thermodynamic modeling


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparing theoretical and practical biomass yields calls for revisiting thermodynamic growth models for electroactive microorganisms'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this