Several approaches to generate electrical power directly from salinity gradient energy using capacitive electrodes have recently been developed, but power densities have remained low. By immersing the capacitive electrodes in ionic fields generated by exoelectrogenic microorganisms in bioelectrochemical reactors, we found that energy capture using synthetic river and seawater could be increased ∼65 times, and power generation ∼46 times. Favorable electrochemical reactions due to microbial oxidation of organic matter, coupled to oxygen reduction at the cathode, created an ionic flow field that enabled more effective passive charging of the capacitive electrodes and higher energy capture. This ionic-based approach is not limited to the use of river water-seawater solutions. It can also be applied in industrial settings, as demonstrated using thermolytic solutions that can be used to capture waste heat energy as salinity gradient energy. Forced charging of the capacitive electrodes, using energy generated by the bioelectrochemical system and a thermolytic solution, further increased the maximum power density to 7 W m -2 (capacitive electrode). © 2014 The Royal Society of Chemistry.