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A microbial fuel cell sensor for unambiguous measurement of organic loading and definitive identification of toxic influents

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Martin Spurr, Professor Eileen Yu, Emeritus Professor Keith Scott, Professor Ian Head

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This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Royal Society of Chemistry, 2020.

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Abstract

Microbial Fuel Cells can be used as sensors to measure organic load (measured as Biochemical Oxygen Demand; BOD) in aqueous wastestreams, but electrcial current output can also be affected by the presence of toxic compounds. Just as BOD is a non-specific measure of organic loading the toxic response is not differentiated for specific toxicants and thus enables a generalised toxicity level to be monitored. To date combined BOD and toxicity sensing with a MFC has not been possible without comparison with reference feeds of synthetic solutions, as a decrease in signal caused by a decrease in BOD could not be distinguished from those caused by the presence of a toxicant in the waste stream. In this work, an innovative solution using a three-stage MFC sensor configuration was developed to explicitly distinguish BOD-related and toxicity-related signal decrease. A decrease in BOD led to an initial responses in the third, followed by the second and first stage MFC. For a decrease from 360 to 60 mg/L O2 BOD5 the decrease in normalised current density was 59%, 82% and 94% in the first, second and third MFC respectively. In studies using 4-nitrophenol as a model toxic compound, increasing 4-nitrophenol concentrations resulted in an approximately equal decrease in current in all MFC in the MFC array (63%, 66% and 74% respectively when exposed to medium containing 150 mg/L 4-nitrophenol). Thus the magnitude and ordering of the response allowed a decrease in signal from decreasing BOD to be distinguished from the presence of a toxic compound. Furthermore, the MFCs were capable of recovering to previous performance levels within hours of acute exposure to toxicity. The multi-stage MFC configuration therefore enabled truly combined BOD and toxicity sensing with enhanced detection capabilities without the need for a defined or synthetic reference feed.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Spurr MWA, Yu EH, Scott K, Head IM

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology

Year: 2020

Volume: 6

Issue: 3

Pages: 612-621

Online publication date: 17/12/2019

Acceptance date: 09/12/2019

Date deposited: 17/12/2019

ISSN (electronic): 2053-1400

Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry

URL: https://doi.org/10.1039/C9EW00849G

DOI: 10.1039/C9EW00849G

Data Source Location: http://dx.doi.org/10.17634/154300-94


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