Anodic electro-fermentation: Empowering anaerobic production processes via anodic respiration

Igor Vassilev, Nils J.H. Averesch, Pablo Ledezma, Marika Kokko

Research output: Contribution to journalReview Articlepeer-review


In nature as well as in industrial microbiology, all microorganisms need to achieve redox balance. Their redox state and energy conservation highly depend on the availability of a terminal electron acceptor, for example oxygen in aerobic production processes. Under anaerobic conditions in the absence of an electron acceptor, redox balance is achieved via the production of reduced carbon-compounds (fermentation). An alternative strategy to artificially stabilize microbial redox and energy state is the use of anodic electro-fermentation (AEF). This emerging biotechnology empowers respiration under anaerobic conditions using the anode of a bioelectrochemical system as an undepletable terminal electron acceptor. Electrochemical control of redox metabolism and energy conservation via AEF can steer the carbon metabolism towards a product of interest and avoid the need for continuous and cost-inefficient supply of oxygen as well as the production of mixed reduced by-products, as is the case in aerobic production and fermentation processes, respectively. The great challenge for AEF is to establish efficient extracellular electron transfer (EET) from the microbe to the anode and link it to central carbon metabolism to enhance the synthesis of a target product. This article reviews the advantages and challenges of AEF, EET mechanisms, microbial energy gain, and discusses the rational choice of substrate-product couple as well as the choice of microbial catalyst. Besides, it discusses the potential of the industrial model-organism Bacillus subtilis as a promising candidate for AEF, which has not been yet considered for such an application. This prospective review contributes to a better understanding of how industrial microbiology can benefit from AEF and analyses key-factors required to successfully implement AEF processes. Overall, this work aims to advance the young research field especially by critically revisiting the fundamental aspects of AEF.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107728
Number of pages13
JournalBiotechnology Advances
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


  • Acetoin
  • Aerobic vs. anaerobic production
  • Anodic electro-fermentation
  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Energy conservation
  • Microbial electrochemical technology
  • Redox balance
  • Terminal electron acceptor
  • Unbalanced fermentation

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

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