Power generation using different cation, anion, and ultrafiltration membranes in microbial fuel cells

Rae Kim Jung, Shaoan Cheng, Sang Eun Oh, Bruce E. Logan

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602 Scopus citations


Proton exchange membranes (PEMs) are often used in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) to separate the liquid in the anode and cathode chambers while allowing protons to pass between the chambers. However, negatively or positively charged species present at high concentrations in the medium can also be used to maintain charge balance during power generation. An anion exchange membrane (AEM) produced the largest power density (up to 610 mW/m2) and Coulombic efficiency (72%) in MFCs relative to values achieved with a commonly used PEM (Nafion), a cation exchange membrane (CEM), or three different ultrafiltration (UF) membranes with molecular weight cut offs of 0.5K, 1K, and 3K Daltons in different types of MFCs. The increased performance of the AEM was due to proton charge-transfer facilitated by phosphate anions and low internal resistance. The type of membrane affected maximum power densities in two-chamber, air-cathode cube MFCs (C-MFCs) with low internal resistance (84-91 Ω for all membranes except UF-0.5K) but not in two-chamber aqueous-cathode bottle MFCs (B-MFCs) due to their higher internal resistances (1230-1272 Ω except UF-0.5K). The UF-0.5K membrane produced very high internal resistances (6009 Ω, B-MFC; 1814Ω, C-MFC) and was the least permeable to both oxygen (mass transfer coefficient of k0=0.19 × 10-4 cm/s) and acetate (kA=0.89 × 10 -8 cm/s). Nafion was the most permeable membrane to oxygen (k 0=1.3 × 10-4 cm/s), and the UF-3K membrane was the most permeable to acetate (kA=7.2 × 10-8 cm/s). Only a small percent of substrate was unaccounted for based on measured Coulombic efficiencies and estimates of biomass production and substrate losses using Nafion, CEM, and AEM membranes (4-8%), while a substantial portion of substrate was lost to unidentified processes for the UF membranes (40-89%). These results show that many types of membranes can be used in two-chambered MFCs, even membranes that transfer negatively charged species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1004-1009
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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