A new type of bioelectrochemical system for producing electrical power, called a microbial reverse-electrodialysis cell (MRC), was developed to increase voltages and power densities compared to those generated individually by microbial fuel cells (MFCs) or reverse electrodialysis (RED) systems. In RED systems, electrode overpotentials create significant energy losses due to thermodynamically unfavorable electrode reactions, and therefore a large number of stacked cells must be used to have significant energy recovery. This results in high capital costs for the large number of membranes, and increases energy losses from pumping water through a large number of cells. In an MRC, high overpotentials are avoided through oxidation of organic matter by exoelectrogenic bacteria on the anode and oxygen reduction on the cathode. An MRC containing only five pairs of RED cells, fed solutions typical of seawater (600 mM NaCl) and river water (12 mM NaCl) at 0.85 mL/min, produced up to 3.6 W/m2 (cathode surface area) and 1.2-1.3 V with acetate as a substrate. Pumping accounted for <2% of the produced power. A higher flow rate (1.55 mL/min) increased power densities up to 4.3 W/m2. COD removal was 98% with a Coulombic efficiency of 64%. Power production by the individual components was substantially lower with 0.7 W/m2 without salinity driven energy, and <0.015 W/m2 with reduced exoelectrogenic activity due to substrate depletion. These results show that the combination of an MFC and a RED stack synergistically increases performance relative to the individual systems, producing a new type of system that can be used to more efficiently capture salinity driven energy from seawater and river water.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Chemistry