Hydrogen production with nickel powder cathode catalysts in microbial electrolysis cells

Priscilla A. Selembo, Matthew D. Merrill, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


Although platinum is commonly used as catalyst on the cathode in microbial electrolysis cells (MEC), non-precious metal alternatives are needed to reduce costs. Cathodes were constructed using a nickel powder (0.5-1 μm) and their performance was compared to conventional electrodes containing Pt (0.002 μm) in MECs and electrochemical tests. The MEC performance in terms of coulombic efficiency, cathodic, hydrogen and energy recoveries were similar using Ni or Pt cathodes, although the maximum hydrogen production rate (Q) was slightly lower for Ni (Q = 1.2-1.3 m3 H2/m3/d; 0.6 V applied) than Pt (1.6 m3 H2/m3/d). Nickel dissolution was minimized by replacing medium in the reactor under anoxic conditions. The stability of the Ni particles was confirmed by examining the cathodes after 12 MEC cycles using scanning electron microscopy and linear sweep voltammetry. Analysis of the anodic communities in these reactors revealed dominant populations of Geobacter sulfurreduces and Pelobacter propionicus. These results demonstrate that nickel powder can be used as a viable alternative to Pt in MECs, allowing large scale production of cathodes with similar performance to systems that use precious metal catalysts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-437
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Hydrogen Energy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Fuel Technology
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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