Simultaneous Electricity Generation and Microbially-Assisted Electrosynthesis in MFCs
To this day, bio-electrosynthesis has not been reported for energy-generating MFCs, since it is associated with energy-consuming MECs. The main aim of this work was therefore to investigate the effects on MFC performance of low-cost catalyst-free electrode materials, in conjunction with cation and water transport to the cathode half-cell, in the context of beneficial water accumulation and recovery of valuable resources.
Materials and Methods
Twelve dual–chamber MFCs were tested in triplicate groups assembled with carbon veil anode electrodes. Half-cell chambers were 25mL each and activated sewage sludge (Wessex Water) was used as the inoculum. The cathode chambers contained carbon based electrodes mechanically pressed against the CEM separator. The tested cathode electrodes included: Microporous Layer on carbon cloth (MPL), carbon fibre veil (CV), MPL on carbon fibre veil (CV MPL) and activated carbon (AC).
Results and Discussion
Results showed that the range of Pt-free cathodes including plain carbon fibre veil, activated carbon, and microporous layer (MPL) in dual-chamber MFCs generated electric current with simultaneous catholyte generation in the cathode chamber.
During MFC operation, the production of catholyte on the surface of the cathode electrode was a direct result of electricity generation, and power output has been correlated with catholyte volume. Moreover, the pH of the formed catholyte (>13) and conductivity, showed gradual increase with current generation. The MFC system fed with real wastewater supplemented with sodium acetate showed sodium recovery on the cathode in the form of sodium carbonate salts. Similarly, when the anode feedstock was supplemented with potassium acetate, KOH was formed on the cathode half-cell with additional crystallisation of potassium salts.
This paper demonstrates an innovative and energy-efficient system that exploits microbially assisted electrosynthesis for the recovery of valuable elements from wastewater, in the form of chemicals (NaOH, KOH) and electricity.
This approach leads to carbon capture through wet caustic scrubbing on the cathode, which locks the carbon dioxide into carbonate salts.
This work has been supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, grant no. OPP1094890, and the UK EPSRC, grant numbers EP/I004653/1 and EP/L002132/1.
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