Microbial fuel cells as a new energy source at municipal WWTP?

Introduction The high energy requirement of conventional sewage treatment systems are demanding for the alternative treatment technology which will be cost effective and require less energy for its efficient operation. In this alternative, MFC can play an important role.. Microbial fuel cells are not new – The idea of using microbial cells in order to attempt to produce electricity was first found at the end of the nineteenth century. However, it is only recently that microbial fuel cells with an enhanced power output have been developed providing possible opportunities for practical applications.

How does a microbial fuel cell work? A microbial fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy to electrical energy by the catalytic reaction of microorganisms. There are many types of microbial fuel cells reactors throughout the world, however, all reactors share the same operating principles. A typical microbial fuel cell consists of anode and cathode compartments separated by a membrane. When bacteria are placed in the anode chamber of a cell that is free of oxygen, they attach to an electrode. Because they don’t have oxygen, they must transfer the electrons that they obtain from consumption (oxidation) of their food somewhere else – they transfer them to the electrode. Electrons go to the anode, while the counter electrode (the cathode) is exposed to oxygen. The two electrodes are at different potentials (about 0.5 V), electrons are transferred to the cathode compartment through an external electric circuit, while protons are transferred to the cathode compartment through the membrane. Electrons and protons are consumed in the cathode compartment, combining with oxygen to form water.

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cost effectiveness and performance. Microbial fuel cell technology. The potential energy conversion efficiencies are examined. their application is presently limited to certain niche areas. MFCs do not require highly regulated distribution systems MFCs have high conversion efficiency as compared to Enzymatic Fuel Cells.6 June 2005 Applications of microbial fuel cell technology Microbial fuel cells provide new opportunities for the sustainable production of energy from biodegradable. in harvesting up to 90% of the electrons from the bacterial electron transport system.Microbial fuel cells as a new energy source at municipal WWTP? Figure 1. Hydrogen production. The working principle of a microbial fuel cell.23 no. Source: “Trends in Biotechnology” vol. is presently tested for: Powering underwater monitoring devices. Bacterial potential for electricity generation 2 . it would probably be possible to scale-up and use MFCs as a renewable energy resource. Although MFCs have been studied as an alternative energy source. Power supply to remote sensors. reduced compounds. BOD sensing. With further improvements in design. The operational and functional advantages of MFCs are:    MFCs use organic waste matter as fuel and commonly available microbes as catalysts. Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) are emerging as promising technology for the treatment of wastewaters.

An overview of common reactions is given in table below: Parameters defining the performance of MFCs 3 . such as oxygen. to an electron acceptor with a high potential. such as glucose.Microbial fuel cells as a new energy source at municipal WWTP? Bacteria gain energy by transferring electrons from a reduced substrate at a low potential.

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