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Open Air Biocathode Enables Effective Electricity Generation with Microbial Fuel Cells

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journal contribution
posted on 01.11.2007, 00:00 by Peter Clauwaert, David van der Ha, Nico Boon, Kim Verbeken, Marc Verhaege, Korneel Rabaey, Willy Verstraete
The reduction of oxygen at the cathode is one of the major bottlenecks of microbial fuel cells (MFCs). While research so far has mainly focused on chemical catalysis of this oxygen reduction, here we present a continuously wetted cathode with microorganisms that act as biocatalysts for oxygen reduction. We combined the anode of an acetate oxidizing tubular microbial fuel cell with an open air biocathode for electricity production. The maximum power production was 83 ± 11 W m-3 MFC (0.183 L MFC) for batch-fed systems (20−40% Coulombic yield) and 65 ± 5 W m-3 MFC for a continuous system with an acetate loading rate of 1.5 kg COD m-3 day-1 (90 ± 3% Coulombic yield). Electrochemical precipitation of manganese oxides on the cathodic graphite felt decreased the start-up period with approximately 30% versus a non-treated graphite felt. After the start-up period, the cell performance was similar for the pretreated and non-treated cathodic electrodes. Several reactor designs were tested, and it was found that enlargement of the 0.183 L MFC reactor by a factor 2.9−3.8 reduced the volumetric power output by 60−67%. Biocathodes alleviate the need to use noble or non-noble catalysts for the reduction of oxygen, which increases substantially the viability and sustainability of MFCs.