Activated carbon (AC) is a low-cost and effective catalyst for oxygen reduction in air cathodes of microbial fuel cells (MFCs), but its performance must be maintained over time. AC was modified by three methods: 1)pyrolysis with iron ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (AC-Fe), 2)heat treatment (AC-heat), and 3)mixing with carbon black (AC-CB). The maximum power densities after one month with these AC cathodes were 35% higher with AC-Fe (1410±50mW m-2) and AC-heat (1400±20mW m-2), and 16% higher with AC-CB (1210±30mW m-2) than for plain AC (1040±20mW m-2), versus 1270±50mW m-2 for a Pt control. After 16months, the Pt cathodes produced only 250±10mW m-2. However, the AC-heat and AC-CB cathodes still produced 960-970mW m-2, whereas plain AC produced 860±60mW m-2. The performance of the AC cathodes was restored to >85% of the initial maximum power densities by cleaning with a weak acid solution. Based on cost considerations among the AC materials, AC-CB appears to be the best choice for long-term performance.
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