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An evaluation of the performance and economics of membranes and separators in single chamber microbial fuel cells treating domestic wastewater

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Beate Christgen, Emeritus Professor Keith Scott, Dr Jan DolfingORCiD, Professor Ian Head, Professor Thomas CurtisORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The cost of materials is one of the biggest barriers for wastewater driven microbial fuel cells (MFCs). Many studies use expensive materials with idealistic wastes. Realistically the choice of an ion selective membrane or nonspecific separators must be made in the context of the cost and performance of materials available. Fourteen membranes and separators were characterized for durability, oxygen diffusion and ionic resistance to enable informed membrane selection for reactor tests. Subsequently MFCs were operated in a cost efficient reactor design using Nafion, ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) or polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) membranes, a nonspecific separator (Rhinohide), and a no-membrane design with a carbon-paper internal gas diffusion cathode. Peak power densities during polarisation, from MFCs using no-membrane, Nafion and ETFE, reached 67, 61 and 59 mWm-2, and coulombic efficiencies of 68±11%, 71±12% and 92±6%, respectively. Under 1000Ω, Nafion and ETFE achieved an average power density of 29 mWm-2 compared to 24 mWm-2 for the membrane-less reactors. Over a hypothetical lifetime of 10 years the generated energy (1 to 2.5 kWhm-2) would not be sufficient to offset the costs of any membrane and separator tested.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Christgen B, Scott K, Dolfing J, Head IM, Curtis TP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS ONE

Year: 2015

Volume: 10

Issue: 8

Pages: e0136108

Online publication date: 25/08/2015

Acceptance date: 29/07/2015

Date deposited: 18/09/2015

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136108


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Funder referenceFunder name
Northumbrian Water
BH052678Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)