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No re-calibration required? Stability of a bioelectrochemical sensor for biodegradable organic matter over 800 days

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



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


Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) operated as biosensors could potentially enable truly low-cost, real-time monitoring of organic loading in wastewaters. The current generated by MFCs has been correlated with conventional measures of organic load such as Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), but much remains to be established in terms of the reliability and applicability of such sensors. In this study, batch-mode and multi-stage, flow-mode MFCs were operated for over 800 days and regularly re-calibrated with synthetic wastewater containing glucose and glutamic acid (GGA). BOD5 calibration curves were obtained by normalising the current measured as a percentage of maximum current. There was little drift between recalibrations and non-linear Hill models of the combined dataset had R2 of 88–95%, exhibiting a stable response over time and across devices. Nonetheless, factors which do affect calibration were also assessed. Increasing external resistance (from 43.5 to 5100 Ω) above the internal resistance determined by polarisation curve decreased the calibration upper limit from 240 to 30 mg/l O2 BOD5. Furthermore, more fermentable carbon sources increased the detection range, as tested with samples of real wastewater and synthetic media containing GGA, glucose-only and glutamic acid-only. Biofilm acclimatisation therefore did not account for differences between aerobic oxygen demand determinations and anaerobic MFC responses; these are likely attributable to competitive processes such as fermentation. This further highlights the potential for MFCs as real-time sensors for organic load monitoring and process control in addition to BOD-compliant measurement systems.

Publication metadata

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

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Biosensors and Bioelectronics

Year: 2021

Volume: 190

Print publication date: 15/10/2021

Online publication date: 04/06/2021

Acceptance date: 31/05/2021

Date deposited: 16/06/2021

ISSN (print): 0956-5663

ISSN (electronic): 1873-4235

Publisher: Elsevier BV


DOI: 10.1016/j.bios.2021.113392


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/R005613/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
BIV2017003Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
NE/L01422X/1Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)