Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 87, Issue 6, pp 2365–2372 | Cite as

Electricity generation from mixed volatile fatty acids using microbial fuel cells

  • Shao-Xiang Teng
  • Zhong-Hua Tong
  • Wen-Wei Li
  • Shu-Guang Wang
  • Guo-Ping Sheng
  • Xian-Yang Shi
  • Xian-Wei Liu
  • Han-Qing Yu
Bioenergy and Biofuels


Fermentative hydrogen production, as a process for clean energy recovery from organic wastewater, is limited by its low hydrogen yield due to incomplete conversion of substrates, with most of the fermentation products being volatile fatty acids (VFAs). Thus, further recovery of the energy from VFAs is expected. In this work, microbial fuel cell (MFC) was applied to recover energy in the form of electricity from mixed VFAs of acetate, propionate, and butyrate. Response surface methodology was adopted to investigate the relative contribution and possible interactions of the three components of VFAs. A stable electricity generation was demonstrated in MFCs after the enrichment of electrochemically active bacteria. Analysis showed that power density was more sensitive to the composition of mixed VFAs than coulombic efficiency. The electricity generation could mainly be attributed to the portion of acetate and propionate. However, the two components showed an antagonistic effect when propionate exceeded 19%, causing a decrease in coulombic efficiency. Butyrate was found to exert a negative impact on both power density and coulombic efficiency. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis profiles revealed the enrichment of electrochemically active bacteria from the inoculum sludge. Proteobacteria (Beta-, Delta-) and Bacteroidetes were predominant in all VFA-fed MFCs. Shifts in bacterial community structures were observed when different compositions of VFA mixtures were used as the electron donor. The overall electron recovery efficiency may be increased from 15.7% to 27.4% if fermentative hydrogen production and MFC processes are integrated.


Anaerobic fermentation Microbial fuel cell (MFC) Response surface methodology (RSM) Volatile fatty acids (VFAs) 

Supplementary material

253_2010_2746_MOESM1_ESM.doc (158 kb)
ESM doc (DOC 157 kb)


  1. Bond DR, Lovley DR (2003) Electricity production by Geobacter sulfurreducens attached to electrodes. Appl Environ Microbiol 69:1548–1555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bond DR, Holmes DE, Tender LM, Lovley DR (2002) Electrode-reducing microorganisms that harvest energy from marine sediments. Science 295:483–485CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chae KJ, Choi MJ, Lee JW, Kim KY, Kim IS (2009) Effect of different substrates on the performance, bacterial diversity, and bacterial viability in microbial fuel cells. Bioresour Technol 100:3518–3525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cornell JA (1990) Experiments with mixtures: designs, models, and the analysis of mixture data, 2nd edn. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Freguia S, Teh EH, Boon N, Leung KM, Keller J, Rabaey K (2010) Microbial fuel cells operating on mixed fatty acids. Bioresour Technol 101:1233–1238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 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 BE, Nealson KH, Fredrickson JK (2006) Electrically conductive bacterial nanowires produced by Shewanella oneidensis strain MR-1 and other microorganisms. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:11358–11363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hallenbeck PC, Ghosh D (2009) Advances in fermentative biohydrogen production: the way forward? Trends Biotechnol 27:287–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hamid RY, Christy AD, Dehority BA, Morrison M, Yu ZT, Tuovinen OH (2007) Electricity generation from cellulose by rumen microorganisms in microbial fuel cells. Biotechnol Bioeng 97:1398–1407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ishii S, Watanabe K, Yabuki S, Logan BE, Sekiguchi Y (2008) Comparison of electron reduction activities of Geobacter sulfurreducens and an enriched consortium in an air-cathode microbial fuel cell. Appl Environ Microbiol 74:7348–7355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jung S, Regan JM (2007) Comparison of anode bacterial communities and performance in microbial fuel cells with different electron donors. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 77:393–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kataoka N, Miya A, Kiriyama K (1997) Studies on hydrogen production by continuous culture system of hydrogen-producing anaerobic bacteria. Water Sci Technol 36:41–47Google Scholar
  12. Kim MS, Baek JS, Yun YS, Sim SJ, Park S, Kim SC (2006) Hydrogen production from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii biomass using a two-step conversion process: anaerobic conversion and photosynthetic fermentation. Int J Hydrogen Energy 31:812–816CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kim JR, Dec J, Bruns MA, Logan BE (2008) Removal of odors from swine wastewater by using microbial fuel cells. Appl Environ Microbiol 74:2540–2543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lay JJ (2000) Modeling and optimization of anaerobic digested sludge converting starch to hydrogen. Biotechnol Bioeng 68:269–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lee HS, Parameswaran P, Kato-Marcus A, Torres CI, Rittmann BE (2008) Evaluation of energy-conversion efficiencies in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) utilizing fermentable and non-fermentable substrates. Water Res 42:1501–1510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lin CY, Lay CH (2005) A nutrient formulation for fermentative hydrogen production using anaerobic sewage sludge microflora. Int J Hydrogen Energy 30:285–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 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
  18. Liu H, Cheng SA, Logan BE (2005) Production of electricity from acetate or butyrate using a single-chamber microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 39:658–662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Logan BE (2004) Peer reviewed: extracting hydrogen and electricity from renewable resources. Environ Sci Technol 38:160A–167ACrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Logan BE, Hamelers B, Rozendal R, Schroder U, Keller J, Freguis S, Aelterman P, Verstraete W, Rabaey K (2006) Microbial fuel cells: methodology and technology. Environ Sci Technol 40:5181–5192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lu L, Ren NQ, Xing DF, Logan BE (2009) Hydrogen production with effluent from an ethanol-H2-coproducing fermentation reactor using a single-chamber microbial electrolysis cell. Biosens Bioelectron 24:3055–3060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mohanakrishna G, Mohan VS, Sarma PN (2010) Utilizing acid-rich effluents of fermentative hydrogen production process as substrate for harnessing bioelectricity: an integrative approach. Int J Hydrogen Energy 35:3440–3449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mu Y, Yu HQ, Wang G (2007) A kinetic approach to anaerobic hydrogen-producing process. Water Res 41:1152–1160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 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
  25. Oh SE, Ginkel SV, Logan BE (2003) The relative effectiveness of pH control and heat treatment for enhancing biohydrogen gas production. Environ Sci Technol 37:5186–5190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Prasertsan P, O-Thongc S, Birkeland NK (2009) Optimization and microbial community analysis for production of biohydrogen from palm oil mill effluent by thermophilic fermentative process. Int J Hydrogen Energy 34:7448–7459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Redwood MD, Paterson-Beedle M, Macaskie LE (2009) Integrating dark and light bio-hydrogen production strategies: towards the hydrogen economy. Rev Environ Sci Biotechnol 8:149–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ren NQ, Wang BZ, Huang JC (1997) Ethanol-type fermentation from carbohydrate in high rate acidogenic reactor. Biotechnol Bioeng 54:428–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Scheffé H (1963) Simplex-centroid design for experiments with mixtures. J Roy Stat Soc B 25:235–263Google Scholar
  30. Shi XY, Yu HQ (2005) Optimization of volatile fatty acid compositions for hydrogen production by Rhodopseudomonas capsulate. J Chem Technol Biotechnol 80:1198–1203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Shi XY, Yu HQ (2006) Continuous production of hydrogen from mixed volatile fatty acids with Rhodopseudomonas capsulata. Int J Hydrogen Energy 31:1641–1647CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sun M, Mu ZX, Chen YP, Sheng GP, Liu XW, Chen YZ, Zhao Y, Wang HL, Yu HQ, Wei L, Ma F (2009) Microbe-assisted sulfide oxidation in the anode of a microbial fuel cell. Environ Sci Technol 43:3372–3377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tong ZH, Bischoff M, Nies L, Applegate B, Turco RF (2007) Impact of fullerene (C60) on a soil microbial community. Environ Sci Technol 41:2985–2991CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Uyar B, Eroglu I, Yucel M, Gunduz U (2009) Photofermentative hydrogen production from volatile fatty acids present in dark fermentation effluents. Int J Hydrogen Energy 34:4517–4523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. van Ginkel S, Sung S, Lay JJ (2001) Biohydrogen production as a function of pH and substrate concentration. Environ Sci Technol 35:4726–4730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Virdis B, Rabaey K, Yuan ZG, Keller J (2008) Microbial fuel cells for simultaneous carbon and nitrogen removal. Water Res 42:3013–3024CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Zhang SJ, Yu HQ, Feng HM (2006) PVA-based activated carbon fibers with lotus root-like axially porous structure. Carbon 44:2059–2068CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Zhang Y, Min B, Huang L, Angelidaki I (2009) Generation of electricity and analysis of microbial communities in wheat straw biomass-powered microbial fuel cells. Appl Environ Microbiol 75:3389–3395CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shao-Xiang Teng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zhong-Hua Tong
    • 1
  • Wen-Wei Li
    • 1
  • Shu-Guang Wang
    • 2
  • Guo-Ping Sheng
    • 1
  • Xian-Yang Shi
    • 3
  • Xian-Wei Liu
    • 1
  • Han-Qing Yu
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ChemistryUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaHefeiChina
  2. 2.School of Environmental Science and EngineeringShandong UniversityJinanChina
  3. 3.Institute of Life SciencesAnhui UniversityAnhuiChina

Personalised recommendations