Production of Electricity during Wastewater Treatment Using a Single Chamber Microbial Fuel Cell

Hong Liu, Ramanathan Ramnarayanan, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1420 Scopus citations


Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) have been used to produce electricity from different compounds, including acetate, lactate, and glucose. We demonstrate here that it is also possible to produce electricity in a MFC from domestic wastewater, while at the same time accomplishing biological wastewater treatment (removal of chemical oxygen demand; COD). Tests were conducted using a single chamber microbial fuel cell (SCMFC) containing eight graphite electrodes (anodes) and a single air cathode. The system was operated under continuous flow conditions with primary clarifier effluent obtained from a local wastewater treatment plant. The prototype SCMFC reactor generated electrical power (maximum of 26 mW m-2) while removing up to 80% of the COD of the wastewater. Power output was proportional to the hydraulic retention time over a range of 3-33 h and to the influent wastewater strength over a range of 50-220 mg/L of COD. Current generation was controlled primarily by the efficiency of the cathode. Optimal cathode performance was obtained by allowing passive air flow rather than forced air flow (4.5-5.5 L/min). The Coulombic efficiency of the system, based on COD removal and current generation, was <12% indicating a substantial fraction of the organic matter was lost without current generation. Bioreactors based on power generation in MFCs may represent a completely new approach to wastewater treatment. If power generation in these systems can be increased, MFC technology may provide a new method to offset wastewater treatment plant operating costs, making advanced wastewater treatment more affordable for both developing and industrialized nations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2281-2285
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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