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Microbial fuel cells with highly active aerobic biocathodes

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ed Milner, Dr Dorin-Mirel Popescu, Professor Thomas CurtisORCiD, Professor Ian Head, Emeritus Professor Keith Scott, Professor Eileen Yu



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


Microbial fuel cells (MFCs), which convert organic waste to electricity, could be used to make the wastewater infrastructure more energy efficient and sustainable. However, platinum and other nonplatinum chemical catalysts used for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) at the cathode of MFCs are unsustainable due to their high cost and long-term degradation. Aerobic biocathodes, which use microorganisms as the biocatalysts for cathode ORR, are a good alternative to chemical catalysts. In the current work, high-performing aerobic biocathodes with an onset potential for the ORR of ?0.4 V vs. Ag/ AgCl were enriched from activated sludge in electrochemical half-cells poised at 0.1 and ? 0.2 V vs. Ag/ AgCl. Gammaproteobacteria, distantly related to any known cultivated gammaproteobacterial lineage, were identified as dominant in these working electrode biofilms (23.3e44.3% of reads in 16S rRNA gene Ion Torrent libraries), and were in very low abundance in non-polarised control working electrode biofilms (0.5e0.7%). These Gammaproteobacteria were therefore most likely responsible for the high activity of biologically catalysed ORR. In MFC tests, a high-performing aerobic biocathode increased peak power 9-fold from 7 to 62 mW cm2 in comparison to an unmodified carbon cathode, which was similar to peak power with a platinum-doped cathode at 70 mW cm2.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Milner EM, Popescu D, Curtis T, Head IM, Scott K, Yu EH

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Power Sources

Year: 2016

Volume: 324

Pages: 8-16

Print publication date: 30/08/2016

Online publication date: 21/05/2016

Acceptance date: 13/05/2016

Date deposited: 04/07/2016

ISSN (print): 0378-7753

ISSN (electronic): 1873-2755

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.jpowsour.2016.05.055


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Funder referenceFunder name
EP/H019480/1EPSRC Biological Fuel Cells