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Regenerable Nickel-Functionalized Activated Carbon Cathodes Enhanced by Metal Adsorption to Improve Hydrogen Production in Microbial Electrolysis Cells

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journal contribution
posted on 30.05.2018, 00:00 by Kyoung-Yeol Kim, Wulin Yang, Bruce E. Logan
While nickel is a good alternative to platinum as a catalyst for the hydrogen evolution reaction, it is desirable to reduce the amount of nickel needed for cathodes in microbial electrolysis cells (MECs). Activated carbon (AC) was investigated as a cathode base structure for Ni as it is inexpensive and an excellent adsorbent for Ni, and it has a high specific surface area. AC nickel-functionalized electrodes (AC-Ni) were prepared by incorporating Ni salts into AC by adsorption, followed by cathode fabrication using a phase inversion process using a poly­(vinylidene fluoride) (PVDF) binder. The AC-Ni cathodes had significantly higher (∼50%) hydrogen production rates than controls (plain AC) in smaller MECs (static flow conditions) over 30 days of operation, with no performance decrease over time. In larger MECs with catholyte recirculation, the AC-Ni cathode produced a slightly higher hydrogen production rate (1.1 ± 0.1 L-H2/Lreactor/day) than MECs with Ni foam (1.0 ± 0.1 L-H2/Lreactor/day). Ni dissolution tests showed that negligible amounts of Ni were lost into the electrolyte at pHs of 7 or 12, and the catalytic activity was restored by simple readsorption using a Ni salt solution when Ni was partially removed by an acid wash.