In microbial electrosynthesis (MES), microorganisms grow on a cathode electrode as a biofilm, or in the catholyte as planktonic biomass, and utilize CO2for their growth and metabolism. Modification of the cathode with metals can improve MES performance, due to their catalytic activity for H2 production, which can be consumed by microorganisms, or via modifying the cathode properties. On the other hand, metals can have an inhibiting effect on MES. While these single roles of metals and their oxides have been identified, an investigation of the simultaneous effects on MES is still lacking. Here, we modify activated carbon (AC) electrodes with nickel (Ni) at high (5%) and low (0.01%) loadings, to investigate its combined effects on MES. Upon Ni impregnation, multiple factors explained the MES performance, including electrocatalytic H2 production, trace element availability, metal toxicity, Ni leaching and redeposition/bio-crystalization. Instead, the electrode surface properties (i.e., surface area and pore structure) were not affected by Ni addition. Compared to unmodified AC, low Ni loading did not improve abiotic H2 production, whereas at high Ni loading a 6-fold increase was observed. During biological experiments, low Ni loading resulted in over a 3-fold increase of acetate production and 35% higher planktonic growth, compared to unmodified AC. Instead, high Ni loading resulted in 25-fold increase of acetate production, 21% decrease of planktonic growth, and improved biofilm growth. Unmodified AC, and low and high Ni loading each resulted in unique microbial community composition. The effect of Ni on MES is therefore concentration-dependent, with apparently different mechanisms of interaction being prevalent at low or high Ni loadings.
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Data underlying the publication: Concentration-dependent effects of nickel doping on activated carbon biocathodes