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Microbial fuel cells and other bioelectrochemical systems for energy production and other value added products

Prof. Bruce Logan
Penn State University, USA

The ability of certain microorganisms to transfer electrons outside the cell (exoelectrogens) or to accept electrons directly into the cell (electrotrophs) has created opportunities for new types of bioelectrochemical technologies, including: microbial fuel cells (MFCs), to produce electrical power; microbial electrolysis cells (MECs), to produce fuels such as hydrogen and methane gases; and microbial desalination cells (MDCs) to partially or fully desalinate water. In an MFC, exoelectrogens oxidize organic matter and release electrons to the anode. These electrons flow to the counter electrode (cathode) where they combine with oxygen and protons to form water, generating current and power. In an MEC additional voltage is added (with no oxygen present) to the circuit allowing hydrogen gas to be electrochemically evolved at the cathode. The voltage needed (>0.2 V) is substantially smaller than that needed to electrolyze water. By including membranes into MFCs and MECs to create specialized compartments, it is possible to use either of these systems to desalinate water. Sustained current generation is possible in all these devices using virtually any type of biodegradable organic matter. In this presentation, I highlight different applications possible for these bioelectrochemcial systems, and present new architectures that are being used to scale down these systems for high though put screening, and to scale up these systems for commercial applications.


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