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Comparing terracotta and earthenware for multiple functionalities in microbial fuel cells

Abstract

The properties of earthenware and terracotta were investigated in terms of structural integrity and ion conductivity, in two microbial fuel cell (MFC) designs. Parameters such as wall thickness (4, 8, 18 mm), porosity and cathode hydration were analysed. During the early stages of operation (2 weeks), the more porous earthenware lost anolyte quickly and was unstable between feeding compared to terracotta. Three weeks later MFCs of all thicknesses were more stable and could sustain longer periods of power production without maintenance. In all cases, the denser terracotta produced higher open circuit voltage; however, earthenware the more porous and less iron-rich of the two, proved to be the better material for power production, to the extent that the thickest wall (18 mm) MFC produced 15 % higher power than the thinnest wall (4 mm) terracotta. After 6 weeks of operation, the influence of wall thickness was less exaggerated and power output was comparable between the 4 and 8 mm ceramic membranes. Cylindrical earthenware MFCs produced significantly higher current (75 %) and power (33 %) than terracotta MFCs. A continuous dripping mode of cathode hydration produced threefold higher power than when MFCs were submerged in water, perhaps because of a short-circuiting effect through the material. This shows a significant improvement in terms of biosystems engineering, since a previously high-maintenance half-cell, is now shown to be virtually self-sufficient.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Winfield.

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Winfield, J., Greenman, J., Huson, D. et al. Comparing terracotta and earthenware for multiple functionalities in microbial fuel cells. Bioprocess Biosyst Eng 36, 1913–1921 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00449-013-0967-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00449-013-0967-6

Keywords

  • Microbial fuel cell
  • Ceramic
  • Proton exchange membrane
  • Terracotta
  • Earthenware