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Understanding the complexity of wastewater: The combined impacts of carbohydrates and sulphate on the performance of bioelectrochemical systems

Lookup NU author(s): Fei Zhao, Dr Elizabeth Heidrich, Professor Thomas CurtisORCiD, Dr Jan DolfingORCiD



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

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


© 2020 Elsevier Ltd. Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) have long been viewed as a promising wastewater treatment technology. However, in reality, the performance of bioelectrochemical systems fed with real (and therefore complex) wastewaters is often disappointing. We have sought to investigate the combined impacts of complex substrates and presence of electron acceptors. In particular, this study illustrates and systematically evaluates the disparity in performance between a BES acclimatised with acetate and those acclimatised with more complex carbohydrates (glucose, sucrose or starch) and in the presence and absence of sulphate. Relative to acetate only, operating with complex carbohydrates reduced current by 73%–87% and coulombic efficiency by 4%–50%. Acclimation with complex carbohydrates seriously impeded the colonisation anode by Geobacteraceae, resulting in substantially reduced capacity to produce current (60.2% on average). Combined acclimation with sulphate further reduced current by 35% on average, and resulted in a total reduction of 83%–93% relative to the acetate control. However, the presence of an electrogenic sulphide-sulphur shuttle meant sulphate had little effect on the coulombic efficiency of the BES. The results indicate that a reduction in current and coulombic efficiency is, at present, an unavoidable consequence of operating a BES fed with complex wastewater. Researchers, designers and policy makers should incorporate such losses in both their plans and their prognostications.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Zhao F, Heidrich ES, Curtis TP, Dolfing J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Water Research

Year: 2020

Volume: 176

Print publication date: 01/06/2020

Online publication date: 20/03/2020

Acceptance date: 17/03/2020

Date deposited: 28/05/2020

ISSN (print): 0043-1354

ISSN (electronic): 1879-2448

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2020.115737


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