The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Performance and microbial ecology of air-cathode microbial fuel cells with layered electrode assemblies

TitlePerformance and microbial ecology of air-cathode microbial fuel cells with layered electrode assemblies
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsButler CS, Nerenberg R
JournalApplied Microbiology and Biotechnology
Start Page1399
Date Published05/2010
KeywordsAir cathode Oxygen crossover, Diffusion layer, Geobacter, Microbial fuel cells

Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) can be built with layered electrode assemblies, where the anode, proton exchange membrane (PEM), and cathode are pressed into a single unit. We studied the performance and microbial community structure of MFCs with layered assemblies, addressing the effect of materials and oxygen crossover on the community structure. Four MFCs with layered assemblies were constructed using Nafion or Ultrex PEMs and a plain carbon cloth electrode or a cathode with an oxygen-resistant polytetrafluoroethylene diffusion layer. The MFC with Nafion PEM and cathode diffusion layer achieved the highest power density, 381 mW/m(2) (20 W/m(3)). The rates of oxygen diffusion from cathode to anode were three times higher in the MFCs with plain cathodes compared to those with diffusion-layer cathodes. Microsensor studies revealed little accumulation of oxygen within the anode cloth. However, the abundance of bacteria known to use oxygen as an electron acceptor, but not known to have exoelectrogenic activity, was greater in MFCs with plain cathodes. The MFCs with diffusion-layer cathodes had high abundance of exoelectrogenic bacteria within the genus Geobacter. This work suggests that cathode materials can significantly influence oxygen crossover and the relative abundance of exoelectrogenic bacteria on the anode, while PEM materials have little influence on anode community structure. Our results show that oxygen crossover can significantly decrease the performance of air-cathode MFCs with layered assemblies, and therefore limiting crossover may be of particular importance for these types of MFCs.