High concentration of total ammonia nitrogen (TAN) in the form of urea is known to inhibit the performance of many biological wastewater treatment processes. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) have great potential for TAN removal due to its unique oxic/anoxic environment. In this study, we demonstrated that increased urea (TAN) concentration up to 3940 mg/L did not inhibit power output of single-chambered MFCs, but enhanced power generation by 67% and improved coulombic efficiency by 78% compared to those obtained at 80 mg/L of TAN. Over 80% of nitrogen removal was achieved at TAN concentration of 2630 mg/L. The increased nitrogen removal coupled with significantly enhanced coulombic efficiency, which was observed for the first time, indicates the possibility of a new electricity generation mechanism in MFCs: direct oxidation of ammonia for power generation. This study also demonstrates the great potential of using one MFC reactor to achieve simultaneous electricity generation and urea removal from wastewater.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Baolan H, Shuai L, Lidong S, Ping Z, Xiangyang X (2012) Effect of different ammonia concentrations on community succession of ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms in a simulated paddy soil column. PLoS One. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044122
Chae KJ, Choi MJ, Kim KY, Ajayi F, Park W, Kim CW, Kim I (2010) Methanogenesis control by employing various environmental stress conditions in two-chambered microbial fuel cells. Bioresour Technol 101:5350–5357. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2010.02.035
Chen Y, Cheng JJ, Creamer KS (2008) Inhibition of anaerobic digestion process: a review. Bioresour Technol 99:4044–4064
Chen H, Zheng P, Zhang J, Xie Z, Ji J, Ghulam A (2014) Substrates and pathway of electricity generation in a nitrification-based microbial fuel cell. Bioresour Technol 161:208–214. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2014.02.081
Clauwaert P, Toledo R, Ha D, Crab R, Verstraete W, Hu H, Udert KM, Rabaey K (2008) Combining biocatalyzed electrolysis with anaerobic digestion. Water Sci Technol 57:575–579. doi:10.2166/wst.2008.084
Hansen KH, Angelidaki I, Ahring BK (1998) Anaerobic digestion of swine manure: inhibition by ammonia. Water Res. doi:10.1016/S0043-1354(97)00201-7
He Z, Kan J, Wang Y, Huang Y, Mansfeld F, Nealson K (2009) Electricity production coupled to ammonium in a microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 43:3391–3397. doi:10.1021/es803492c
Janicek A, Fan Y, Liu H (2015) Performance and stability of different cathode base materials for use in microbial fuel cells. J Power Sources 280:159165. doi:10.1016/j.jpowsour.2015.01.098
Kim DJ, Lee DI, Keller J (2006) Effect of temperature and free ammonia on nitrification and nitrite accumulation in landfill leachate and analysis of its nitrifying bacterial community by FISH. Bioresour Technol. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2005.03.032
Kim JR, Zuo Y, Regan JM, Logan BE (2008) Analysis of ammonia loss mechanisms in microbial fuel cells treating animal wastewater. Biotechnol Bioeng 99:1120–1127. doi:10.1002/bit.21687
Kim HW, Nam JY, Shin HS (2011) Ammonia inhibition and microbial adaptation in continuous single-chamber microbial fuel cells. J Power Sources 196:62106213. doi:10.1016/j.jpowsour.2011.03.061
Liu H, Logan B (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. 38:4040–4046. doi:10.1021/es0499344
Min B, Kim J, Oh S, Regan JM, Logan BE (2005) Electricity generation from swine wastewater using microbial fuel cells. Water Res 39:4961–4968. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2005.09.039
Nam JY, Kim HW, Shin HS (2010) Ammonia inhibition of electricity generation in single-chambered microbial fuel cells. J Power Sources. doi:10.1016/j.jpowsour.2010.03.091
Sukkasem C, Xu S, Park S, Boonsawang P, Liu H (2008) Effect of nitrate on the performance of single chamber air cathode microbial fuel cells. Water Res 42:4743–4750. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2008.08.029
Virdis B, Rabaey K, Yuan Z, Rozendal R, Keller J (2009) Electron fluxes in a microbial fuel cell performing carbon and nitrogen removal. Environ Sci Technol. 43:5144–5149. doi:10.1021/es8036302
Virdis B, Rabaey K, Rozendal R, Yuan Z, Keller J (2010) Simultaneous nitrification, denitrification and carbon removal in microbial fuel cells. Water Res. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2010.02.022
Werner JJ, Garcia ML, Perkins SD (2014) Microbial community dynamics and stability during an ammonia-induced shift to syntrophic acetate oxidation. Appl Environ Microbiol. doi:10.1128/AEM.00166-14
Xie S, Liang P, Chen Y, Xia X, Huang X (2011) Simultaneous carbon and nitrogen removal using an oxic/anoxic-biocathode microbial fuel cells coupled system. Bioresour Technol. doi:10.1016/j.biortech.2010.07.046
Yan H, Saito T, Regan J (2012) Nitrogen removal in a single-chamber microbial fuel cell with nitrifying biofilm enriched at the air cathode. Water Res 46:2215–2224. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2012.01.050
Yenigün O, Demirel B (2013) Ammonia inhibition in anaerobic digestion: a review. Process Biochem. doi:10.1016/j.procbio.2013.04.012
Yu CP, Liang Z, Das A, Hu Z (2010) Nitrogen removal from wastewater using membrane aerated microbial fuel cell techniques. Water Res 45:1157–1164. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2010.11.002
Zhang F, He Z (2012) Simultaneous nitrification and denitrification with electricity generation in dual-cathode microbial fuel cells. J Chem Technol Biotechnol 87(153):159. doi:10.1002/jctb.2700
The author would like to acknowledge the support from the US National Science Foundation (PFI 1312301).
Responsible editor: Bingcai Pan
About this article
Cite this article
Wang, L., Xie, B., Gao, N. et al. Urea removal coupled with enhanced electricity generation in single-chambered microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 20401–20408 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-9689-7
- Microbial fuel cell
- Total ammonia nitrogen
- Nitrogen removal
- Power generation
- Wastewater treatment