Microbial Fuel Cells Environmental Microbial Genomics Group

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Laboratoire Ampere
Ecole Centrale de Lyon . France
(33) 472 18 64 94


How does an MFC work?

Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) use bacteria (biocatalysts) to convert organic matter (fuel) directly into electricity. They are being developed as a novel biotechnology to harvest energy from dissolved organic matter with potential applications ranging from wastewater treatment to power sources for remote environmental sensors.

MFC Single Chamber (Jean-Michel Monier, Ampere Lab, Ecole Centrale de Lyon)
MFCs are fed with the wastewater containing both the fuel and the bacteria responsible for its degradation. MFC bacteria, or at least some, will oxidize the fuel and use the anode as an external electron acceptor. Electrical power is generated by the electrons flowing from the anode through an electrical circuit to the cathode, where the reduction of an electron acceptor (usually oxygen) occurs.

While electrical performances of MFCs have greatly increased over the past few years, the technology is not marketable yet. Major breakthroughs leading to the reduction of the cost of reactors (e.g., removing platinum at the cathode) or to an increase of conversion yield and electrical performances are still needed and under way.


The MFC People

  • Richard Barthollet (Technician)
  • Alexiane Godain (PhD student)
  • Naoufel Haddour (Associate Professor, Electrochemistry, Head of MFC Research)
  • Olivier Ondel (Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering)
  • Agathe Paitier (PhD Student)
  • Timothy M. Vogel (Professor, Bioengineering and Molecular Ecology)

Questions or comments: Contact us HERE


Research interests

Our research group is developing and optimising MFCs capable of generating electricity while treating wastewater. Altough our research mainly focuses on the microbiology of MFCs, we benefit from close ties with electrical engineers, bioengineers and electrochemists present in the Laboratoire Ampere and have developped an interdisciplinary research project addressing the different aspects essential to the technology (electrical and bio-engineering, electrochemistry, microbiology).

To date, there is limited information about the development, structure, function and organization of bacterial communities responsible for electricity production in MFCs. We are among those who believe that a better understanding of these communities remains essential to optimize energy production in MFCs. Our main fundamental research interests aim at

  • Identifying the processes leading to the development of electro-active communities

  • Improving MFC performances through a better understanding of the microbial communities

  • Assessing the significance of extracellular electron transfer in shaping microbial communities

Development of electroactive biofilms  (Jean-Michel Monier, Ampere Lab, Ecole Centrale de Lyon)
Example of MFC developped (Jean-Michel Monier, Ampere Lab, Ecole Centrale de Lyon)

Community analyses are performed using metagenomic approaches at both the DNA and cellular levels (cell recovery and sorting, total DNA extraction, RISA, 16S-based phylogenetic microarrays, pyrosequencing…). Analyses of the biofilm structure, distribution and physiological state of the bacterial cells at the surface of the electrodes are performed using a range of fluorochromes or probes in combination with microscopy techniques and 3D imaging systems.

Our group is also involved in more applied research and has set up pilot scale MFC reactors at a local wastewater treatment plant in collaboration with the City of Lyon ("Grand Lyon"). Our goals are to:

  • Assess the robustness and potential of the technology under real conditions

  • Identify the technological barriers

  • Adapt and optimize the technology (reactor design, electrode materials, hydrodynamics, electricity storage and use...) for specific sites and applications.

The technology and our expertise in environmental microbiology and bioengineering has also led to the creation of a start-up company (Enoveo) who's aim is to provide innovative and efficient environmental bioengineering solutions.


MFC Video

View a video of a microbial fuel cell fed with primary clarifier effluent from a municipal wastewater treatment plant and powering a small propeller.



Lyon, D., Buret, F., Vogel, T.M., Monier J-M. 2010. Is resistance futile? Changing external resistance does not improve microbial fuel cell performance, Bioelectrochemistry. 78: 2-7.


Press and Awards

Les bactéries pour faire de l'électricité
Humanité Dimanche, June 2008
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Les Biopiles
Tout Lyon, March 2007

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Une pile à combustible qui se nourrit d'eaux usées
Les Echos, March 2007
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Carrefours de la Fondation Rhône-Alpes Futur Award
Entreprendre dans le Grand Lyon, December 2006







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