Role of operating conditions on energetic pathways in a Microbial Fuel Cell

The electric performance of a Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) fed with swine manure, and specifically the interactions between different coexisting bacterial populations are examined in relationship to the Organic Loading Rate (OLR) and External Resistance applied to the cell. Feasibility of swine manure treatment using MFCs was already demonstrated by previous studies, however low Coulombic efficiencies were attained due to a competing methanogenic degradation occurring in the same cells. External resistance (Rext) and Organic Loading Rate have been identified as two of the key parameters affecting the balance between exoelectrogenic and methanogenic bacterial populations in a MFC system; despite this, virtually no attention had been paid to the study of OLR influence on MFCs performance. This study evaluates the performance of a MFC, treating swine manure, in this perspective, demonstrating that high OLRs (up to 11.2 kg COD m3/d) have a limiting effect on MFCs electrochemical losses, and increase absolute values of ORR (4.6 kg COD m3/d) and current production (14.9 mA). On the other hand, adoption of low OLR (as low as 0.7 kg COD m3/d) translates in an increase of both organic matter removal efficiency (52%) and Coulombic efficiency (higher than 70%). These improvements can be directly connected with the shifting balance between exoelectrogenic and methanogenic biomass populations, as confirmed by the cell's anode off-gas analysis. Hence, by adopting the appropriate design value of ORL and operating conditions, the MFC's biofilm exoelectrogenic population fraction, and thus its overall activity, can be improved considerably.

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Laboratori d’Enginyeria Química i Ambiental

Institut de Medi Ambient
Universitat de Girona
Campus Montilivi
17003 Girona

Parc Científic i Tecnològic de la UdG
Edifici Jaume Casademont, Porta B
Pic de Peguera, 15
17003 Girona
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