Tubular membrane cathodes for scalable power generation in microbial fuel cells

Yi Zuo, Shaoan Cheng, Doug Call, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


One of the greatest challenges for using microbial fuel cells (MFCs) for wastewater treatment is creating a scalable architecture that provides large surface areas for oxygen reduction at the cathode and bacteria growth on the anode. We demonstrate here a scalable cathode concept by showing that a tubular ultrafiltration membrane with a conductive graphite coating and a nonprecious metal catalyst (CoTMPP) can be used to produce power in an MFC. Using a carbon paper anode (surface area Aan = 7 cm2, surface area per reactor volume Aan,s = 25 m2/m3), an MFC with two 3-cm tube cathodes (Acat = 27 cm2, Acat,s = 84 m2/m3) generated up to 8.8 W/m3 (403 mW/m2) using glucose [0.8 g/L in a 50 mM phosphate buffer solution (PBS)], which was only slightly less than that produced using a carbon paper cathode with a Pt catalyst (9.9 W/m3, 394 mW/m2; A cat = 7 cm2, Acat,s = 25 m2/m 3). Coulombic efficiencies (CEs) with carbon paper anodes were 25-40% with tube cathodes (CoTMPP), compared to 7-19% with a carbon paper cathode. When a high-surface-area graphite brush anode was used (Aan = 2235 cm2, Aan,s = 7700 m2/m3) with two tube cathodes placed inside the reactor (Acat = 27 cm2, Acat,s = 93 m2/m3), the MFC produced 17.7 W/m3 with a CE = 70-74% (200 mM PBS). Further increases in the surface area of the tube cathodes to 54 cm2 (120 m2/m 3) increased the total power output (from 0.51 to 0.83 mW), but the increase in volume resulted in a constant volumetric power density (≃18 W/m3). These results demonstrate that an MFC design using tubular cathodes coated with nonprecious metal catalysts, and brush anodes, is a promising architecture that is intrinsically scalable for creating larger systems. Further increases in power output will be possible through the development of cathodes with lower internal resistances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3347-3353
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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