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Urea removal coupled with enhanced electricity generation in single-chambered microbial fuel cells


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.

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The author would like to acknowledge the support from the US National Science Foundation (PFI 1312301).

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Correspondence to Hong Liu.

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Responsible editor: Bingcai Pan

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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).

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  • Microbial fuel cell
  • Urea
  • Total ammonia nitrogen
  • Nitrogen removal
  • Power generation
  • Wastewater treatment