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Optimising the hydraulic retention time in a pilot-scale microbial electrolysis cell to achieve high volumetric treatment rates using concentrated domestic wastewater

Lookup NU author(s): Daniel Leicester, Professor Jaime Amezaga, Dr Elizabeth Heidrich



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


© 2020 by the authors. Bioelectrochemical systems (BES) have the potential to deliver energy-neutral wastewater treatment. Pilot-scale tests have proven that they can operate at low temperatures with real wastewaters. However, volumetric treatment rates (VTRs) have been low, reducing the ability for this technology to compete with activated sludge (AS). This paper describes a pilot-scale microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) operated in continuous flow for 6 months. The reactor was fed return sludge liquor, the concentrated filtrate of anaerobic digestion sludge that has a high chemical oxygen demand (COD). The use of a wastewater with increased soluble organics, along with optimisation of the hydraulic retention time (HRT), resulted in the highest VTR achieved by a pilot-scale MEC treating real wastewater. Peak HRT was 0.5-days, resulting in an average VTR of 3.82 kgCOD/m3·day and a 55% COD removal efficiency. Finally, using the data obtained, a direct analysis of the potential savings from the reduced loading on AS was then made. Theoretical calculation of the required tank size, with the estimated costs and savings, indicates that the use of an MEC as a return sludge liquor pre-treatment technique could result in an industrially viable system.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Leicester DD, Amezaga JM, Moore A, Heidrich ES

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Molecules

Year: 2020

Volume: 25

Issue: 12

Online publication date: 26/06/2020

Acceptance date: 24/06/2020

Date deposited: 13/07/2020

ISSN (electronic): 1420-3049

Publisher: MDPI AG


DOI: 10.3390/molecules25122945

PubMed id: 32604914


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