Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Plant/microbe cooperation for electricity generation in a rice paddy field


Soils are rich in organics, particularly those that support growth of plants. These organics are possible sources of sustainable energy, and a microbial fuel cell (MFC) system can potentially be used for this purpose. Here, we report the application of an MFC system to electricity generation in a rice paddy field. In our system, graphite felt electrodes were used; an anode was set in the rice rhizosphere, and a cathode was in the flooded water above the rhizosphere. It was observed that electricity generation (as high as 6 mW/m2, normalized to the anode projection area) was sunlight dependent and exhibited circadian oscillation. Artificial shading of rice plants in the daytime inhibited the electricity generation. In the rhizosphere, rice roots penetrated the anode graphite felt where specific bacterial populations occurred. Supplementation to the anode region with acetate (one of the major root-exhausted organic compounds) enhanced the electricity generation in the dark. These results suggest that the paddy-field electricity-generation system was an ecological solar cell in which the plant photosynthesis was coupled to the microbial conversion of organics to electricity.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6


  1. Atschul SF, Gish W, Miller W, Myers EW, Lipman DJ (1990) Basic local alignment search tool. J Mol Biol 215:403–410

  2. Chin KJ, Hahn D, Hengstmann U, Liesack W, Janssen PH (1999) Characterization and identification of numerically abundant culturable bacteria from the anoxic bulk soil of rice paddy microcosms. Appl Environ Microbiol 65:5042–5049

  3. Clauwaert P, Van der Ha D, Boon N, Verbeken K, Verhaege M, Rabaey K, Verstraete W (2007) Open air biocathode enables effective electricity generation with microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 41:7564–7569

  4. Grosskopf R, Janssen PH, Liesack W (1998) Diversity and structure of the methanogenic community in anoxic rice paddy soil microcosms as examined by cultivation and direct 16S rRNA gene sequence retrieval. Appl Environ Microbiol 64:960–969

  5. Ishii S, Hotta Y, Watanabe K (2008) Methanogenesis versus electrogenesis: morphological and phylogenetic comparisons of microbial communities. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 72:286–294

  6. Jones DL (1998) Organic acids in the rhizosphere—a critical review. Plant soil 205:25–44

  7. Kaku N, Ueki A, Fujii H, Ueki K (2000) Methanogenic activities on rice roots and plant residue and their contributions to methanogenesis in wetland rice field soil. Soil Biol Biochem 32:2001–2010

  8. Kaku N, Ueki A, Ueki K, Watanabe K (2005) Methanogenesis as an important terminal electron accepting process in estuarine sediment at the mouth of Orikasa River. Microb Environ 20:41–52

  9. Logan BE, Regan JM (2006) Electricity-producing bacterial communities in microbial fuel cells. Trend Microbiol 14:512–518

  10. Logan BE, Hamelers B, Rozendal R, Schröder U, Keller J, Freguia S, Aelterman P, Verstraete W, Rabaey K (2006) Microbial fuel cells: methodology and technology. Environ Sci Technol 40:5181–5192

  11. Lovley RD (2006) Microbial fuel cells: novel microbial physiologies and engineering approaches. Curr Opin Biotechnol 17:327–332

  12. Lovley DR, Phillips EJP (1987) Rapid assay for microbially reducible ferric iron in aquatic sediments. Appl Environ Microbiol 52:751–757

  13. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2006) Statistics of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan

  14. Oh S, Min B, Logan BE (2004) Cathode performance as a factor in electricity generation in microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 38:4900–4904

  15. Reimers CE, Tender LM, Fertig S, Wang W (2001) Harvesting energy from the marine sediment-water interface. Environ Sci Technol 35:192–195

  16. Reimers CE, Girguis P, Stecher HA III, Tender M, Ryckelynck N, Whaling P (2006) Microbial fuel cell energy from an ocean cold seep. Geobiol 4:123–136

  17. Rezaei F, Richard TL, Brennan RA, Logan BE (2007) Substrate-enhanced microbial fuel cells for improved remote power generation from sediment-based systems. Environ Sci Technol 41:4053–4058

  18. Sambrook J, Fritsch EF, Maniatis T (1989) Molecular cloning: a laboratory manual, 2nd edn. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, USA

  19. Satoh A, Watanabe M, Ueki A, Ueki K (2002) Physiological properties and phylogenetic affiliations of anaerobic bacteria isolated from roots of rice plants cultivated on a paddy field. Anaerobe 8:233–246

  20. Stookey LL (1970) Ferrozine; a new spectrophometric reagent for iron. Anal Chem 42:779–781

  21. Takai Y (1969) The mechanism of reduction in paddy soil. Jpn Agri Res 4:20–23

  22. Tender LM, Reimers CE, Stecher HA III, Holmes DE, Bond DR, Lowy DA, Pilobello K, Fertig SJ, Lovley DR (2002) Harnessing microbially generated power on the seafloor. Nat Biotechnol 20:821–825

  23. Walker TS, Bais HP, Grotewold E, Vivanco JM (2003) Root exudation and rhizosphere biology. Plant Physiol 132:44–51

  24. Watanabe K, Kodama Y, Harayama S (2001) Design and evaluation of PCR primers to amplify bacterial 16S ribosomal DNA fragments used for community fingerprinting. J Microbiol Methods 44:253–262

  25. Watanabe K, Teramoto M, Futamata H, Harayama S (1998) Molecular detection, isolation, and physiological characterization of functionally dominant phenol-degrading bacteria in activated sludge. Appl Environ Microbiol 64:4396–4402

  26. Yagi K, Minami K (1990) Effect of organic matter application on methane emission from some Japanese paddy fields. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 36:599–610

Download references


We thank Katsuji Ueki and Atsuko Ueki for valuable discussions, Yoichi Kikuchi and Yuka Sasaki for paddy-field management, Midori Sato for technical assistance, and Greg Newton for critical reading of this manuscript. This work was supported by Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS). K.W. was also supported by Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST).

Author information

Correspondence to Kazuya Watanabe.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kaku, N., Yonezawa, N., Kodama, Y. et al. Plant/microbe cooperation for electricity generation in a rice paddy field. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 79, 43–49 (2008).

Download citation


  • Microbial fuel cell
  • Paddy field
  • Rhizosphere
  • Root exudation