Substrate-enhanced microbial fuel cells for improved remote power generation from sediment-based systems

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A sediment microbial fuel cell (MFC) produces electricity through the bacterial oxidation of organic matter contained in the sediment. The power density is limited, however, due in part to the low organic matter content of most marine sediments. To increase power generation from these devices, particulate substrates were added to the anode compartment. Three materials were tested: two commercially available chitin products differing in particle size and biodegradability (Chitin 20 and Chitin 80) and cellulose powder. Maximum power densities using chitin in this substrate-enhanced sediment MFC (SEM) were 76 ± 25 and 84 ± 10 mW/m2 (normalized to cathode projected surface area) for Chitin 20 and Chitin 80, respectively, versus less than 2 mW/m2 for an unamended control. Power generation over a 10 day period averaged 64 ± 27 mW/m2 (Chitin 20) and 76 ± 15 mW/m2 (Chitin 80). With cellulose, a similar maximum power was initially generated (83 ± 3 mW/m2), but power rapidly decreased after only 20 h. Maximum power densities over the next 5 days varied substantially among replicate cellulose-fed reactors, ranging from 29 ± 12 to 62 ± 23 mW/m2. These results suggest a new approach to power generation in remote areas based on the use of particulate substrates. While the longevity of the SEM was relatively short in these studies, it is possible to increase operation times by controlling particle size, mass, and type of material needed to achieve desired power levels that could theoretically be sustained over periods of years or even decades.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4053-4058
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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