Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 93, Issue 5, pp 2241–2248 | Cite as

A multi-electrode continuous flow microbial fuel cell with separator electrode assembly design

  • Yongtae Ahn
  • Bruce E. Logan
Bioenergy and biofuels


Scaling up microbial fuel cells (MFCs) requires the development of compact reactors with multiple electrodes. A scalable single chamber MFC (130 mL), with multiple graphite fiber brush anodes and a single air-cathode cathode chamber (27 m2/m3), was designed with a separator electrode assembly (SEA) to minimize electrode spacing. The maximum voltage produced in fed-batch operation was 0.65 V (1,000 Ω) with a textile separator, compared to only 0.18 V with a glass fiber separator due to short-circuiting by anode bristles through this separator with the cathode. The maximum power density was 975 mW/m2, with an overall chemical oxygen demand (COD) removal of >90% and a maximum coulombic efficiency (CE) of 53% (50 Ω resistor). When the reactor was switched to continuous flow operation at a hydraulic retention time (HRT) of 8 h, the cell voltage was 0.21 ± 0.04 V, with a very high CE = 85%. Voltage was reduced to 0.13 ± 0.03 V at a longer HRT = 16 h due to a lower average COD concentration, and the CE (80%) decreased slightly with increased oxygen intrusion into the reactor per amount of COD removed. Total internal resistance was 33 Ω, with a solution resistance of 2 Ω. These results show that the SEA type MFC can produce stable power and a high CE, making it useful for future continuous flow treatment using actual wastewaters.


Microbial fuel cell Scaling up Separator electrode assembly Continuous flow 



The MFC was designed in concert by Penn State and researchers from the Siemens Corporation. The research reported here was supported by the Siemens Corporation.


  1. Aelterman P, Rabaey K, Pham HT, Boon N, Verstraete W (2006) Continuous electricity generation at high voltages and currents using stacked microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 40(10):3388–3394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aelterman P, Versichele M, Marzorati M, Boon N, Verstraete W (2008) Loading rate and external resistance control the electricity generation of microbial fuel cells with different three-dimensional anodes. Bioresour Technol 99(18):8895–8902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. APHA (1995) Standard methods for the examination of water and wastewater. American Public Health Association. 19th Edition. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  4. Borole AP, Hamilton CY, Vishnivetskaya TA (2011) Enhancement in current density and energy conversion efficiency of 3-dimensional MFC anodes using pre-enriched consortium and continuous supply of electron donors. Bioresour Technol 102(8):5098–5104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cheng SA, Logan BE (2007) Ammonia treatment of carbon cloth anodes to enhance power generation of microbial fuel cells. Electrochem Commun 9(3):492–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cheng SA, Logan BE (2011) Increasing power generation for scaling up single-chamber air cathode microbial fuel cells. Bioresour Technol 102(6):4468–4473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheng S, Liu H, Logan BE (2006a) Increased performance of single-chamber microbial fuel cells using an improved cathode structure. Electrochem Commun 8(3):489–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cheng S, Liu H, Logan BE (2006b) Increased power generation in a continuous flow MFC with advective flow through the porous anode and reduced electrode spacing. Environ Sci Technol 40(7):2426–2432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cheng SA, Xing DF, Call DF, Logan BE (2009) Direct biological conversion of electrical current into methane by electromethanogenesis. Environ Sci Technol 43(10):3953–3958CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cusick RD, Bryan B, Parker DS, Merrill MD, Mehanna M, Kiely PD, Liu G, Logan BE (2011) Performance of a pilot-scale continuous flow microbial electrolysis cell fed winery wastewater. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 89(6):2053–2063CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dekker A, Ter Heijne A, Saakes M, Hamelers HVM, Buisman CJN (2009) Analysis and improvement of a scaled-up and stacked microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 43(23):9038–9042CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fan Y, Hu H, Liu H (2007) Enhanced coulombic efficiency and power density of air-cathode microbial fuel cells with an improved cell configuration. J Power Sources 171(2):348–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Feng YJ, Yang Q, Wang X, Logan BE (2010) Treatment of carbon fiber brush anodes for improving power generation in air-cathode microbial fuel cells. J Power Sources 195(7):1841–1844CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hays S, Zhang F, Logan BE (2011) Performance of two different types of anodes in membrane electrode assembly microbial fuel cells for power generation from domestic wastewater. J Power Sources 196(20):8293–8300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. He Z, Mansfeld F (2009) Exploring the use of electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) in microbial fuel cell studies. Energy Environ Sci 2(2):215–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. He Z, Minteer SD, Angenent LT (2005) Electricity generation from artificial wastewater using an upflow microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 39(14):5262–5267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. He Z, Wagner N, Minteer SD, Angenent LT (2006) An upflow microbial fuel cell with an interior cathode: assessment of the internal resistance by impedance spectroscopy. Environ Sci Technol 40(17):5212–5217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hong Y, Call DF, Werner CM, Logan BE (2011) Adaptation to high current using low external resistances eliminates power overshoot in microbial fuel cells. Biosens Bioelectron 28(1):71–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Huang L, Cheng S, Rezaei F, Logan BE (2009) Reducing organic loads in wastewater effluents from paper recycling plants using microbial fuel cells. Environ Technol 30(5):499–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hutchinson AJ, Tokash JC, Logan BE (2011) Analysis of carbon fiber brush loading in anodes on startup and performance of microbial fuel cells. J Power Sources 196(22):9213–9219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jiang D, Li B (2009) Granular activated carbon single-chamber microbial fuel cells (GAC-SCMFCs): a design suitable for large-scale wastewater treatment processes. Biochem Eng J 47(1–3):31–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Liu H, Logan BE (2004) Electricity generation using an air-cathode single chamber microbial fuel cell in the presence and absence of a proton exchange membrane. Environ Sci Technol 38(14):4040–4046CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Liu H, Cheng SA, Logan BE (2005a) Power generation in fed-batch microbial fuel cells as a function of ionic strength, temperature, and reactor configuration. Environ Sci Technol 39(14):5488–5493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Liu H, Cheng SA, Logan BE (2005b) Production of electricity from acetate or butyrate using a single-chamber microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 39(2):658–662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Liu H, Cheng S, Huang L, Logan BE (2008) Scale-up of membrane-free single-chamber microbial fuel cells. J Power Sources 179(1):274–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Logan BE (2008) Microbial fuel cells. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  27. Logan BE (2010) Scaling up microbial fuel cells and other bioelectrochemical systems. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 85(6):1665–1671CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 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(17):5181–5192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Logan BE, Cheng S, Watson V, Estadt G (2007) Graphite fiber brush anodes for increased power production in air-cathode microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 41(9):3341–3346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Min B, Logan BE (2004) Continuous electricity generation from domestic wastewater and organic substrates in a flat plate microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 38(21):5809–5814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Moon H, Chang IS, Jang JK, Kim BH (2005) Residence time distribution in microbial fuel cell and its influence on COD removal with electricity generation. Biochem Eng J 27(1):59–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Nevin KP, Richter H, Covalla SF, Johnson JP, Woodard TL, Orloff AL, Jia H, Zhang M, Lovley DR (2008) Power output and columbic efficiencies from biofilms of Geobacter sulfurreducens comparable to mixed community microbial fuel cells. Environ Microbiol 10(10):2505–2514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Oh SE, Kim JR, Joo JH, Logan BE (2009) Effects of applied voltages and dissolved oxygen on sustained power generation by microbial fuel cells. Water Sci Technol 60(5):1311–1317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Pham TH, Jang JK, Moon HS, Chang IS, Kim BH (2005) Improved performance of microbial fuel cell using membrane-electrode assembly. J Microbiol Biotechn 15(2):438–441Google Scholar
  35. Rader GK, Logan BE (2010) Multi-electrode continuous flow microbial electrolysis cell for biogas production from acetate. Int J Hydrog Energ 35(17):8848–8854CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rozendal RA, Hamelers HVM, Molenkmp RJ, Buisman JN (2007) Performance of single chamber biocatalyzed electrolysis with different types of ion exchange membranes. Water Res 41(9):1984–1994CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Watson VJ, Logan BE (2011) Analysis of polarization methods for elimination of power overshoot in microbial fuel cells. Electrochem Commun 13(1):54–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zhang JN, Zhao QL, You SJ, Jiang JQ, Ren NQ (2008) Continuous electricity production from leachate in a novel upflow air-cathode membrane-free microbial fuel cell. Water Sci Technol 57(7):1017–1021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zhang X, Cheng S, Wang X, Huang X, Logan BE (2009) Separator characteristics for increasing performance of microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 43(21):8456–8461CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Zhang X, Cheng S, Huang X, Logan BE (2010a) Improved performance of single-chamber microbial fuel cells through control of membrane deformation. Biosens Bioelectron 25(7):1825–1828CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Zhang X, Cheng S, Huang X, Logan BE (2010b) The use of nylon and glass fiber filter separators with different pore sizes in air-cathode single-chamber microbial fuel cells. Energy Environ Sci 3(5):659–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Zhang L, Zhu X, Li J, Liao Q, Ye D (2011a) Biofilm formation and electricity generation of a microbial fuel cell started up under different external resistances. J Power Sources 196(15):6029–6035CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Zhang X, Cheng S, Liang P, Huang X, Logan BE (2011b) Scalable air cathode microbial fuel cells using glass fiber separators, plastic mesh supporters, and graphite fiber brush anodes. Bioresour Technol 102(1):372–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil & Environmental EngineeringPenn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations