Production of electricity from acetate or butyrate using a single-chamber microbial fuel cell

Hong Liu, Shaoan Cheng, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

914 Scopus citations


Hydrogen can be recovered by fermentation of organic material rich in carbohydrates, but much of the organic matter remains in the form of acetate and butyrate. An alternative to methane production from this organic matter is the direct generation of electricity in a microbial fuel cell (MFC). Electricity generation using a single-chambered MFC was examined using acetate or butyrate. Power generated with acetate (800 mg/L) (506 mW/m2 or 12.7 mW/L) was up to 66% higher than that fed with butyrate (1000 mg/L) (305 mW/m2 or 7.6 mW/L), demonstrating that acetate is a preferred aqueous substrate for electricity generation in MFCs. Power output as a function of substrate concentration was well described by saturation kinetics, although maximum power densities varied with the circuit load. Maximum power densities and half-saturation constants were Pmax = 661 mW/m2 and K s = 141 mg/L for acetate (218 Ω) and Pmax = 349 mW/m2 and Ks = 93 mg/L for butyrate (1000 Ω). Similar open circuit potentials were obtained in using acetate (798 mV) or butyrate (795 mV). Current densities measured for stable power output were higher for acetate (2.2 A/m2) than those measured in MFCs using butyrate (0.77 A/m2). Cyclic voltammograms suggested that the main mechanism of power production in these batch tests was by direct transfer of electrons to the electrode by bacteria growing on the electrode and not by bacteria-produced mediators. Coulombic efficiencies and overall energy recovery were 10-31 and 3-7% for acetate and 8-15 and 2-5% for butyrate, indicating substantial electron and energy losses to processes other than electricity generation. These results demonstrate that electricity generation is possible from soluble fermentation end products such as acetate and butyrate, but energy recoveries should be increased to improve the overall process performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)658-662
Number of pages5
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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