represent a new and promising approach for generating power.” Not only do MFCs clean wastewater.Abstract Microbial fuel cells (MFCs). “It is a device that converts chemical energy into electricity through the catalytic activities of microorganisms. MFC technology's ability to create renewable. devices in which bacteria create electrical power by oxidizing simple compounds such as glucose or complex organic matter in wastewater. carbon-neutral energy has generated tremendous interest around the world. but they also convert organics in these wastewaters into usable energy. Given the world's limited supply of fossil fuels and fossil fuels' impact on climate change. .


INTRODUCTION A microbial fuel cell (MFC) or biological fuel cell is a bio-electrochemical system that drives a current by mimicking bacterial interactions found in nature. there are two types of microbial fuel cells: mediator and mediator-less microbial fuel cells. such as the bacteria used in the system. Mediator-less MFCs are a much more recent development and due to this the factors that affect optimum operation. Types 2. Electrons are transferred to the cathode compartment through an external electric circuit. In general. combining with oxygen to form water.1 Mediator Microbial Fuel Cell . Bacteria in mediator-less MFCs typically have electrochemically active redox enzymes such as cytochromes on their outer membrane that can transfer electrons to external materials. Potter was the first to perform work on the subject in 1911 Microbial fuel cell 2. are not particularly well understood. fuel is oxidized by microorganisms. A typical microbial fuel cell consists of anode and cathode compartments separated by a cation (positively charged ion) specific membrane. and the protons are transferred to the cathode compartment through the membrane. M. generating electrons and protons. The idea of using microbial cells in an attempt to produce electricity was first conceived at the turn of the nineteenth century. and the system conditions such as temperature. It is a device that converts chemical energy to electrical energy by the catalytic reaction of microorganisms. the type of ion membrane.1. Electrons and protons are consumed in the cathode compartment. C. In the anode compartment.

Mediator-less microbial fuel cells can. Most of the mediators available are expensive and toxic. humic acid. lupines. Some bacteria.2 Mediator-less Microbial Fuel Cell Mediator-less microbial fuel cells do not require a mediator but uses electrochemically active bacteria to transfer electrons to the electrode (electrons are carried directly from the bacterial respiratory enzyme to the electrode). are able to transfer their electron production via these pili. cordgrass. methyl blue. Among the electrochemically active bacteria are. rice. Whilst MFC's produce electric current by the bacterial decomposition of hydrocarbons in water. methyl viologen. Given that the power is thus derived from a living plant (in situ-energy production). and others. and algae. Mediator less microbial fuel cell 2. in a reverse of the process MEC's generate hydrogen or methane directly by applying an electric current to bacteria. besides running on wastewater.3 Microbial Electrolysis Cell A variation of the mediator-less MFC is the Microbial electrolysis cells (MEC). also derive energy directly from certain aquatic plants. These microbial fuel cells are called Plant Microbial Fuel Cells (Plant-MFC). Shewanella putrefaciens. neutral red and so on. tomatoes.Most of the microbial cells are electrochemically inactive. These include reed sweetgrass. 2. Aeromonas hydrophila. this variant can provide extra ecological advantages. which have pili on their external membrane. The electron transfer from microbial cells to the electrode is facilitated by mediators such as thionine. .

4 Soil-based Microbial Fuel Cell Soil-based Microbial Fuel Cells adhere to the same basic MFC principals as described above. Moreover. Soil based microbial cell . including the electrogenic microbes needed for MFCs. The anode is placed at a certain depth within the soil. while the cathode rests on top the soil and is exposed to the oxygen in the air above it. whereby soil acts as the nutrient-rich anodic media. which cause the redox potential of the soil to decrease with greater depth. Soils are naturally teeming with a diverse consortium of microbes. much like the expensive PEM materials used in laboratory MFC systems. and the proton-exchange membrane (PEM). the inoculum.2. and are full of complex sugars and other nutrients that have accumulated over millions of years of plant and animal material decay. the aerobic (oxygen consuming) microbes present in the soil act as an oxygen filter. Soil-based MFCs are becoming popular educational tools for science classrooms.

The mediator crosses the outer cell lipid membranes and plasma wall. A number of mediators have been suggested for use in microbial fuel cells. this electrode becomes the electrogeneric anode (negatively charged electrode). the anode is the terminal electron acceptor recognized by bacteria in the anodic chamber. Therefore. This is the principle behind generating a flow of electrons from most microorganisms (the organisms capable of 4. methylene blue. The now-reduced mediator exits the cell laden with electrons that it shuttles to an electrode where it deposits them. The release of the electrons means that the mediator returns to its original oxidized state ready to repeat the process. thionine or resorufin. However when oxygen is not present they produce carbon dioxide. the microbial activity is strongly dependent on the redox potential of the anode. In a microbial fuel cell operation. Substrates used in MFC  Acetate  Glucose  Corn stover  Cellulose  Land fill leachate  Waste water • • • • Municipal Food Animal Brewery cells and steal the electrons that are produced.3. if oxygen is present then it will collect all the electrons as it has greater electro negativity than the mediator. A critical anodic potential seems to exist at which a maximum power output of a microbial fuel cell is achieved. Generating electricity When micro-organisms consume a substrate such as sugar in aerobic conditions they produce carbon dioxide and water. it then begins to liberate electrons from the electron transport chain that would normally be taken up by oxygen or other intermediates. In fact. These include natural red. It is important to note that this can only happen under anaerobic conditions. it was recently published that a Michaelis-Menten curve was obtained between the anodic potential and the power output of an acetate driven microbial fuel cell. protons and electrons as described below: C12H22O11 + 13H2O ---> 12CO2 + 48H+ + 48eMicrobial fuel cells use inorganic mediators to tap into the electron transport chain of .

In order to turn this into a usable supply of electricity this process has to be accommodated in a fuel cell. not just shuttle electrons to a single point. this is not particularly practical as it would require large volumes of circulating gas. this could be a number of molecules such as oxygen. This mixture is placed in a sealed chamber to stop oxygen entering. The gains to be made from doing this are that MFCs are a very clean and efficient method of energy production. 5. A more convenient option is to use a solution of a solid oxidizing agent. Connecting the two electrodes is a wire (or other electrically conductive path which may include some electrically powered device such as a light bulb) and completing the circuit and connecting the two chambers is a salt bridge or ion-exchange membrane. The solution is an oxidizing agent that picks up the electrons at the cathode. As with the electron chain in the yeast cell. In order to generate a useful current it is necessary to create a complete circuit. An electrode is placed in the solution that will act as the anode as described previously. These then flow across the wire to the second electrode. A fuel cell’s emissions are well below regulations. MFCs also use energy much more efficiently than standard combustion engines which are limited by the Carnot Cycle. thus forcing the micro-organism to use anaerobic respiration. Virtually any organic material could be used to ‘feed’ the fuel cell. In the second chamber of the MFC is another solution and electrode. However. According to new research conducted by René Rozendal. which acts as an electron sink. This electrode. conversion of the energy to . 1986). Chemical processing wastewater and designed synthetic wastewater have been used to produce bioelectricity in dual and single chambered mediatorless MFCs (non-coated graphite electrodes) apart from wastewater treatment. The reduced mediator carries electrons from the cell to the electrode. The mediator and micro-organism. In theory an MFC is capable of energy efficiency far beyond 50% (Yue & Lowther. Uses Power generation Microbial fuel cells have a number of potential uses. MFCs could be installed to wastewater treatment plants. called the cathode is positively charged and is the equivalent of the oxygen sink at the end of the electron transport chain.producing an electric current are termed Exoelectrogens. The bacteria would consume waste material from the water and produce supplementary power for the plant. using the new microbial fuel cells. From here they pass to an oxidising material. The first and most obvious is harvesting the electricity produced for a power source. are mixed together in a solution to which is added a suitable substrate such as glucose. only now it is external to the biological cell. Here the mediator is oxidized as it deposits the electrons. in this case yeast. Higher power production was observed with biofilm covered anode (graphite).

The advantages to using an MFC in this situation as opposed to a normal battery is that it uses a renewable form of energy and would not need to be recharged like a standard battery would. In addition to this they could operate well in mild conditions. This allows the set-up of power stations based on algae platforms or other plants incorporating a large field of aquatic plants.). electrical engineering. etc. An MFC-type BOD sensor can be used to measure real time BOD values. However MFCs do not have to be used on a large scale. . This reduces costs as the microbial fuel cell plant can then make use of the same electricity lines as the wind turbines. and can be made using commonly available materials. such as soils and items from the refrigerator. 20°C to 40°C and also at pH of around 7. the fields are best set-up in synergy with existing renewable plants (e. as the electrodes in some cases need only be 7 μm thick by 2 cm long. Although more powerful than metal catalysts. an MFC can be used to measure the strength of wastewater.hydrogen is 8x as high as conventional hydrogen production technologies. they are currently too unstable for long term medical applications such as in pacemakers (Biotech/Life Sciences Portal). When BOD values are used as a real time control parameter. There are also kits available for classrooms and hobbyists. usually activate sludge collected from sewage works. The strength of wastewater is commonly evaluated as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) values. Besides wastewater power plants. as mentioned before. According to Bert Hamelers. Education Soil-based microbial fuel cells are popular educational tools. This type of BOD sensor is commercially available. Further uses Since the current generated from a microbial fuel cell is directly proportional to the strength of wastewater used as the fuel.g. BOD values are determined incubating samples for 5 days with proper source of microbes. 5 days' incubation is too long. as they employ a range of scientific disciplines (microbiology. MFC-type BOD sensors underestimate BOD values in the presence of these electron acceptors. energy can also be derived directly from crops. offshore windturbines). Oxygen and nitrate are preferred electron acceptors over the electrode reducing current generation from an MFC. geochemistry. This can be avoided by inhibiting aerobic and nitrate respirations in the MFC using terminal oxidase inhibitors such as cyanide and azide.

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