Vapor-Fed Cathode Microbial Electrolysis Cells with Closely Spaced Electrodes Enables Greatly Improved Performance

Ruggero Rossi, Gahyun Baek, Bruce E. Logan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Hydrogen can be electrochemically produced in microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) by current generated from bacterial anodes with a small added voltage. MECs typically use a liquid catholyte containing a buffer or salts. However, anions in these catholytes result in charge being balanced predominantly by ions other than hydroxide or protons, leading to anode acidification. To enhance only hydroxide ion transport to the anode, we developed a novel vapor-fed MEC configuration lacking a catholyte with closely spaced electrodes and an anion exchange membrane to limit the acidification. This MEC design produced a record-high sustained current density of 43.1 ± 0.6 A/m2 and a H2 production rate of 72 ± 2 LH2/L-d (cell voltage of 0.79 ± 0.00 V). There was minimal impact on MEC performance of increased acetate concentrations, solution conductivity, or anolyte buffer capacity at applied voltages up to 1.1 V, as shown by a nearly constant internal resistance of only 6.8 ± 0.3 mΩ m2. At applied external voltages >1.1 V, the buffer capacity impacted performance, with current densities increasing from 28.5 ± 0.6 A/m2 (20 mM phosphate buffer solution (PBS)) to 51 ± 1 A/m2 (100 mM PBS). These results show that a vapor-fed MEC can produce higher and more stable performance than liquid-fed cathodes by enhancing transport of hydroxide ions to the anode.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1211-1220
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 18 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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