Challenges in microbial fuel cell development and operation

  • Byung Hong KimEmail author
  • In Seop ChangEmail author
  • Geoffrey M. Gadd


A microbial fuel cell (MFC) is a device that converts chemical energy into electricity through the catalytic activities of microorganisms. Although there is great potential of MFCs as an alternative energy source, novel wastewater treatment process, and biosensor for oxygen and pollutants, extensive optimization is required to exploit the maximum microbial potential. In this article, the main limiting factors of MFC operation are identified and suggestions are made to improve performance.


Microbial fuel cell Bioenergy Renewable energy 



This work was supported partly by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Korea through the National Research Laboratory programme (M1-0104-00-0024), and by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Gwangju Institute of Science Technology (GIST, Research Center for Biomolecular Nanotechnology) institutional research programs. GMG and BHK gratefully acknowledge receipt of a Royal Society (London) South Korea–UK Project Grant (Ref 12152).


  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 40:3388–3394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bergel A, Feron D, Mollica A (2005) Catalysis of oxygen reduction in PEM fuel cell by seawater biofilm. Electrochem Commun 7:900–904CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Biffinger JC, Pietron J, Ray R, Little B, Ringeisen BR (2007) A biofilm enhanced miniature microbial fuel cell using Shewanella oneidensis DSP10 and oxygen reduction cathodes. Biosens Bioelectron 22:1672–1679CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bond DR, Lovley DR (2003) Electricity production by Geobacter sulfurreducens attached to electrodes. Appl Environ Microbiol 69:1548–1555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bond DR, Lovley DR (2005) Evidence for involvement of an electron shuttle in electricity generation by Geothrix fermentans. Appl Environ Microbiol 71:2186–2189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bond DR, Holmes DE, Tender LM, Lovley DR (2002) Electrode-reducing microorganisms that harvest energy from marine sediments. Science 295:483–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chang IS, Jang JK, Gil GC, Kim M, Kim HJ, Cho BW, Kim BH (2004) Continuous determination of biochemical oxygen demand using microbial fuel cell type biosensor. Biosens Bioelectron 19:607–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chang IS, Moon H, Jang JK, Kim BH (2005) Improvement of a microbial fuel cell performance as a BOD sensor using respiratory inhibitors. Biosens Bioelectron 20:1856–1859CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chang IS, Moon H, Bretschger O, Jang JK, Park HI, Nealson KH, Kim BH (2006) Electrochemically active bacteria (EAB) and mediator-less microbial fuel cells. J Microbiol Biotechnol 16:163–177Google Scholar
  10. Chaudhuri SK, Lovley DR (2003) Electricity generation by direct oxidation of glucose in mediatorless microbial fuel cells. Nature Biotechnol 21:1229–1232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cheng S, Liu H, Logan BE (2006a) Increased performance of single-chamber microbial fuel cells using an improved cathode structure. Electrochem Commun 8:489–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 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 40:2426–2432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cheng S, Liu H, Logan BE (2006c) Power densities using different cathode catalysts (Pt and CoTMPP) and polymer binders (Nafion and PTFE) in single chamber microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 40:364–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Choo YF, Lee J, Chang IS, Kim BH (2006) Bacterial communities in microbial fuel cells enriched with high concentrations of glucose and glutamate. J Microbiol Biotechnol 16:1481–1484Google Scholar
  15. Crittenden SR, Sund CJ, Sumner JJ (2006) Mediating electron transfer from bacteria to a gold electrode via a self-assembled monolayer. Langmuir 22:9473–9476CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis F, Higson SPJ (2007) Biofuel cells: recent advances and application. Biosens Bioelectron 22:1224–1235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ghangrekar MM, Shinde VB (2007) Performance of membrane-less microbial fuel cell treating wastewater and effect of electrode distance and area on electricity production. Bioresour Technol 98:2879–2885CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gil GC, Chang IS, Kim BH, Kim M, Jang JK, Park HS, Kim HJ (2003) Operational parameters affecting the performance of a mediator-less microbial fuel cell. Biosens Bioelectron 18:327–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gorby YA, Yanina S, McLean JS, Rosso KM, Moyles D, Dohnalkova A, Beveridge TJ, Chang IS, Kim BH, Kim KS, Culley DE, Reed SB, Romine MF, Saffarini DA, Hill EA, Shi L, Elias DA, Kennedy DW, Pinchuk G, Watanabe K, Ishii S, Logan B, Nealson KH, Fredrickson JK (2006) Electrically conductive bacterial nanowires produced by Shewanella oneidensis strain MR-1 and other microorganisms. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 103:11358–11363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hasvold O, Henriksen H, Melvaer E, Citi G, Johansen BO Kjonigsen T, Galetti R (1997) Sea-water battery for subsea control systems. J Power Sources 65:253–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. He Z, Angenent LT (2006) Application of bacterial biocathodes in microbial fuel cells. Electroanalysis 18:2009–2015CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 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 40:5212–5217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holmes DE, Bond DR, Lovley DR (2004a) Electron transfer by Desulfobulbus propionicus to Fe(III) and graphite electrodes. Appl Environ Microbiol 70:1234–1237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Holmes DE, Bond DR, O’Neil RA, Reimers CE, Tender LR, Lovley DR (2004b) Microbial communities associated with electrodes harvesting electricity from a variety of aquatic sediments. Microbial Ecol 48:178–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Holmes DE, Nicoll JS, Bond DR, Lovley DR (2004c) Potential role of a novel psychrotolerant member of the family Geobacteraceae, Geopsychrobacter electrodiphilus gen. nov., sp. nov., in electricity production by a marine sediment fuel cell. Appl Environ Microbiol 70:6023–6030CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jang JK, Pham TH, Chang IS, Kang KH, Moon H, Cho KS, Kim BH (2004) Construction and operation of a novel mediator- and membrane-less microbial fuel cell. Process Biochem 39:1007–1012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jang JK, Chang IS, Moon H, Kang KH, Kim BH (2006) Nitrilotriacetic acid degradation under microbial fuel cell environment. Biotechnol Bioeng 95:772–774CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jong BC, Kim BH, Chang IS, Liew PWY, Choo YF, Kang GS (2006) Enrichment, performance, and microbial diversity of a thermophilic mediatorless microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 40:6449–6454CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kim BH, Kim HJ, Hyun MS, Park DH (1999a) Direct electrode reaction of an Fe(III)-reducing bacterium, Shewanella putrefaciens. J Microbiol Biotechnol 9:127–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kim BH, Ikeda T, Park HS, Kim HJ, Hyun MS, Kano K, Takagi K, Tatsumi H (1999b) Electrochemical activity of an Fe(III)-reducing bacterium, Shewanella putrefaciens IR-1, in the presence of alternative electron acceptors. Biotechnol Tech 13:475–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kim HJ, Park HS, Hyun MS, Chang IS, Kim M, Kim BH (2002) A mediator-less microbial fuel cell using a metal reducing bacterium, Shewanella putrefaciens. Enzyme Microb Technol 30:145–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kim BH, Chang IS, Gil GC, Park HS, Kim HJ (2003a) Novel BOD (biological oxygen demand) sensor using mediator-less microbial fuel cell. Biotechnol Lett 25:541–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kim M, Youn SM, Shin, SH, Jang JG, Han SH, Hyun MS, Gadd GM, Kim HJ (2003b) Practical field application of a novel BOD monitoring system. J Environ Monitoring 5:640–643CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kim BH, Park HS, Kim HJ, Kim GT, Chang IS, Lee J, Phung NT (2004) Enrichment of microbial community generating electricity using a fuel-cell-type electrochemical cell. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 63:672–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kim GT, Hyun MS, Chang IS, Kim HJ, Park HS, Kim BH, Kim SD, Wimpenny JWT, Weightman AJ (2005a) Dissimilatory Fe(III) reduction by an electrochemically active lactic acid bacterium phylogenetically related to Enterococcus gallinarum isolated from submerged soil. J Appl Microbiol 99:978–987CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kim JR, Min B, Logan BE (2005b) Evaluation of procedures to acclimate a microbial fuel cell for electricity production. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 68:23–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kim GT, Webster G, Wimpenny JW, Kim BH, Kim, HJ Weightman AJ (2006) Bacterial community structure, compartmentalization and activity in a microbial fuel cell. J Appl Microbiol 101:698–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lee J, Phung TN, Chang IS, Kim BH, Sung HC (2003) Use of acetate for enrichment of electrochemically active microorganisms and their 16S rDNA analyses. FEMS Microbiol Lett 223:185–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 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 38:4040–4046CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Liu H, Ramnarayanan R, Logan BE (2004) Production of electricity during wastewater treatment using a single chamber microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 38:2281–2285CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Liu H, Cheng S, Logan BE (2005a) Power generation in fed-batch microbial fuel cells as a function of ionic strength, temperature, and reactor configuration. Environ Sci Technol 39:5488–5493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Liu H, Cheng S, Logan BE (2005b) Production of electricity from acetate or butyrate using a single-chamber microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 39:658–662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Liu JL, Lowy DA, Baumann RG, Tender LM (2007) Influence of anode pretreatment on its microbial colonization. J Appl Microbiol 102:177–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Logan BE (2005) Simultaneous wastewater treatment and biological electricity generation. Water Sci Technol 52:31–37Google Scholar
  45. Logan BE, Regan JM (2006) Electricity-producing bacterial communities in microbial fuel cells. Trends Microbiol 14:512–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Logan BE, Hamelers B, Rozendal R, Schroder U, Keller J, Freguia S, Aelterman P, Verstraete W, Rabaey K (2006) Microbial fuel cells: methodology and technology. Environ Sci Technol 40:5181–5192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lovley DR (2006a) Bug juice: harvesting electricity with microorganisms. Nat Rev Microbiol 4:497–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lovley DR (2006b) Microbial fuel cells: novel microbial physiologies and engineering approaches. Curr Opin Biotechnol 17:327–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lowy DA, Tender LM, Zeikus JG, Park DH, Lovley DR (2006) Harvesting energy from the marine sediment–water interface II: kinetic activity of anode materials. Biosens Bioelectron 21:2058–2063CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mao L, Zhang D, Sotomura T, Nakatsu K, Koshiba N, Ohsaka T (2003) Mechanistic study of the reduction of oxygen in air electrode with manganese oxides as electrocatalysts. Electrochim Acta 48:1015–1021CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Min B, Logan BE (2004) Continuous electricity generation from domestic wastewater and organic substrates in a flat plate microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 38:5809–5814CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Min B, Kim JR, Oh SE, Regan JM, Logan BE (2005) Electricity generation from swine wastewater using microbial fuel cells. Water Res 39:4961–4968CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Moon H, Chang IS, Jang JK, Kim KS, Lee J, Lovitt RW, Kim BH (2005a) On-line monitoring of low biochemical oxygen demand through continuous operation of a mediator-less microbial fuel cell. J Microbiol Biotechnol 15:192–196Google Scholar
  54. Moon H, Chang IS, Jang JK, Kim BH (2005b) Residence time distribution in microbial fuel cell and its influence on COD removal with electricity generation. Biochem Eng J 27:59–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Moon H, Chang IS, Kim BH (2006) Continuous electricity production from artificial wastewater using a mediator-less microbial fuel cell. Bioresource Technol 97:621–627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Oh SE, Logan BE (2005) Hydrogen and electricity production from a food processing wastewater using fermentation and microbial fuel cell technologies. Water Res 39:4673–4682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Oh SE, Logan BE (2006) Proton exchange membrane and electrode surface areas as factors that affect power generation in microbial fuel cells. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 70:162–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Oh SE, Min B, Logan BE (2004) Cathode performance as a factor in electricity generation in microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 38:4900–4904CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Palmore TGR (2004) Bioelectric power generation. Trends Biotechnol 22:99–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Palmore GTR, Kim HH (1999) Electro-enzymatic reduction of dioxygen to water in the cathode compartment of a biofuel cell. J Electroanal Chem 464:110–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Park DH, Zeikus JG (2002) Impact of electrode composition on electricity generation in a single-compartment fuel cell using Shewanella putrefaciens. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 59:58–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Park DH, Zeikus JG (2003) Improved fuel cell and electrode designs for producing electricity from microbial degradation. Biotechnol Bioeng 81:348–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Park HS, Kim BH, Kim HS, Kim HJ, Kim GT, Kim M, Chang IS, Park YK, Chang HI (2001) A novel electrochemically active and Fe(III)-reducing bacterium phylogenetically related to Clostridium butyricum isolated from a microbial fuel cell. Anaerobe 7:297–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Pham CA, Jung SJ, Phung NT, Lee J, Chang IS, Kim BH,Yi H, Chun J (2003) A novel electrochemically active and Fe(III)-reducing bacterium phylogenetically related to Aeromonas hydrophila, isolated from a microbial fuel cell. FEMS Microbiol Lett 223:129–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pham TH, Jang JK, Chang IS, Kim BH (2004) Improvement of cathode reaction of a mediator-less microbial fuel cell. J Microbiol Biotechnol 14:324–329Google Scholar
  66. Pham TH, Jang JK, Moon HS, Chang IS, Kim BH (2005) Improved performance of microbial fuel cell using membrane-electrode assembly. J Microbiol Biotechnol 15:438–441Google Scholar
  67. Pham TH, Rabaey K, Aelterman P, Clauwaert P, de Schamphelaire L, Boon N, Verstraete W (2006) Microbial fuel cells in relation to conventional anaerobic digestion technology. Engineering in Life Sciences 6:285–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Phung NT, Lee J, Kang KH, Chang IS, Gadd GM, Kim BH (2004) Analysis of microbial diversity in oligotrophic microbial fuel cells using 16S rDNA sequences. FEMS Microbiol Lett 233:77–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Prasad D, Sivaram TK, Berchmans S, Yegnaraman V (2006) Microbial fuel cell constructed with a micro-organism isolated from sugar industry effluent. J Power Sources 160:991–996CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rabaey K, Verstraete W (2005) Microbial fuel cells: novel biotechnology for energy generation. Trends Biotechnol 23:291–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Rabaey K, Boon N, Siciliano SD, Verhaege M, Verstraete W (2004) Biofuel cells select for microbial consortia that self-mediate electron transfer. Appl Environ Microbiol 70:5373–5382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Reguera G, McCarthy KD, Mehta T, Nicoll JS, Tuominen MT, Lovley DR (2005) Extracellular electron transfer via microbial nanowires. Nature 435:1098–1101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Reguera G, Nevin KP, Nicoll JS, Covalla SF, Woodard TL, Lovley DR (2006) Biofilm and nanowire production leads to increased current in Geobacter sulfurreducens fuel cells. Appl Environ Microbiol 72:7345–7348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rhoads A, Beyenal H, Lewandowski Z (2005) Microbial fuel cell using anaerobic respiration as an anodic reaction and biomineralized manganese as a cathodic reactant. Environ Sci Technol 39:4666–4671CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Ringeisen BR, Henderson E, Wu PK, Pietron J, Ray R, Little B, Biffinger JC, Jones-Meehan JM (2006) High power density from a miniature microbial fuel cell using Shewanella oneidensis DSP10. Environ Sci Technol 40:2629–2634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Rosenbaum M, Zhao F, Schroder U, Scholz F (2006) Interfacing electrocatalysis and biocatalysis with tungsten carbide: a high-performance, noble-metal-free microbial fuel cell. Angew Chem 45:6658–6661CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Rozendal RA, Hamelers HVM, Buisman CJN (2006) Effects of membrane cation transport on pH and microbial fuel cell performance. Environ Sci Technol 40:5206–5211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Shi L, Chen B, Wang Z, Elias DA, Mayer MU, Gorby YA, Ni S, Lower BH, Kennedy DW, Wunschel DS, Mottaz HM, Marshall MJ, Hill EA, Beliaev AS, Zachara JM, Fredrickson JK, Squier TC (2006) Isolation of a high-affinity functional protein complex between OmcA and MtrC: two outer membrane decaheme c-type cytochromes of Shewanella oneidensis MR-1. J Bacteriol 188:4705–4714CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Tartakovsky B, Guiot SR (2006) A comparison of air and hydrogen peroxide oxygenated microbial fuel cell reactors. Biotechnol Prog 22:241–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. ter Heijne A, Hamelers HVM, de Wilde V, Rozendal RA, Buisman CJN (2006) A bipolar membrane combined with ferric iron reduction as an efficient cathode system in microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 40:5200–5205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wang B (2005) Recent development of non-platinum catalysts for oxygen reduction reaction. J Power Sources 152:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Willner I, Arad G, Katz E (1998) A biofuel cell based on pyrroloquinoline quinone and microperoxidase-1 monolayer-functionalized electrode. Bioelectrochem Bioenerg 44:209–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Willner B, Katz E, Willner I (2006) Electrical contacting of redox proteins by nanotechnological means. Curr Opin Biotechnol 17:589–596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Xiong YJ, Shi L, Chen BW, Mayer MU, Lower BH, Londer Y, Bose S, Hochella MF, Fredrickson JK, Squier TC (2006) High-affinity binding and direct electron transfer to solid metals by the Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 outer membrane c-type cytochrome OmcA. J Am Chem Soc 128:13978–13979CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Yokoyama H, Ohmori H, Ishida M, Waki M, Tanaka Y (2006) Treatment of cow-waste slurry by a microbial fuel cell and the properties of the treated slurry as a liquid manure. Anim Sci J 77:634–638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. You SJ, Zhao QL, Jiang JQ, Zhang JN, Zhao SQ (2006a) Sustainable approach for leachate treatment: electricity generation in microbial fuel cell. J Environ Sci Health Part A Environ Sci Eng Toxic Hazard Substance Control 41:2721–2734CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. You SJ, Zhao QL, Zhang JN, Jiang JQ, Zhao SQ (2006b) A microbial fuel cell using permanganate as the cathodic electron acceptor. J Power Sources 162:1409–1415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Zhang T, Cui C, Chen S, Ai X, Yang H, Shen P, Peng Z (2006) A novel mediatorless microbial fuel cell based on direct biocatalysis of Escherichia coli. Chem Commun 2257–2259Google Scholar
  89. Zhao F, Harnisch F, Schroder U, Scholz F, Bogdanoff P, Herrmann I (2005) Application of pyrolysed iron(II) phthalocyanine and CoTMPP based oxygen reduction catalysts as cathode materials in microbial fuel cells. Electrochem Commun 7:1405–1410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Zhao F, Harnisch F, Schroder U, Scholz F, Bogdanoff P, Herrmann I (2006) Challenges and constraints of using oxygen cathodes in microbial fuel cells. Environ Sci Technol 40:5193–5199CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Korea Institute of Science and TechnologySeoulSouth Korea
  2. 2.Muri Research TeamUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Environmental Science & EngineeringGwangju Institute of Science and TechnologyGwangjuSouth Korea
  4. 4.Research Center for Biomolecular NanotechnologyGwangju Institute of Science and TechnologyGwangjuSouth Korea
  5. 5.Division of Environmental and Applied Biology, College of Life SciencesUniversity of DundeeScotlandUK

Personalised recommendations