Electricity generation using membrane and salt bridge microbial fuel cells

Booki Min, Shaoan Cheng, Bruce E Logan
Water Research 2005, 39 (9): 1675-86
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) can be used to directly generate electricity from the oxidation of dissolved organic matter, but optimization of MFCs will require that we know more about the factors that can increase power output such as the type of proton exchange system which can affect the system internal resistance. Power output in a MFC containing a proton exchange membrane was compared using a pure culture (Geobacter metallireducens) or a mixed culture (wastewater inoculum). Power output with either inoculum was essentially the same, with 40+/-1mW/m2 for G. metallireducens and 38+/-1mW/m2 for the wastewater inoculum. We also examined power output in a MFC with a salt bridge instead of a membrane system. Power output by the salt bridge MFC (inoculated with G. metallireducens) was 2.2mW/m2. The low power output was directly attributed to the higher internal resistance of the salt bridge system (19920+/-50 Ohms) compared to that of the membrane system (1286+/-1Ohms) based on measurements using impedance spectroscopy. In both systems, it was observed that oxygen diffusion from the cathode chamber into the anode chamber was a factor in power generation. Nitrogen gas sparging, L-cysteine (a chemical oxygen scavenger), or suspended cells (biological oxygen scavenger) were used to limit the effects of gas diffusion into the anode chamber. Nitrogen gas sparging, for example, increased overall Coulombic efficiency (47% or 55%) compared to that obtained without gas sparging (19%). These results show that increasing power densities in MFCs will require reducing the internal resistance of the system, and that methods are needed to control the dissolved oxygen flux into the anode chamber in order to increase overall Coulombic efficiency.

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