Low pH, high salinity: Too much for microbial fuel cells?

Nicole Jannelli, Rosa Anna Nastro, Viviana Cigolotti, Mariagiovanna Minutillo, Giacomo Falcucci

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Twelve single chambered, air-cathode Tubular Microbial Fuel Cells (TMFCs) have been filled up with fruit and vegetable residues. The anodes were realized by means of a carbon fiber brush, while the cathodes were realized through a graphite-based porous ceramic disk with Nafion membranes (117 Dupont). The performances in terms of polarization curves and power production were assessed according to different operating conditions: percentage of solid substrate water dilution, adoption of freshwater and a 35�mg/L NaCl water solution and, finally, the effect of an initial potentiostatic growth. All TMFCs operated at low pH pH=3.0�0.5), as no pH amendment was carried out. Despite the harsh environmental conditions, our TMFCs showed a Power Density (PD) ranging from 20 to 55�mW/m2�kgwasteand a maximum CD of 20�mA/m2�kgwaste, referred to the cathodic surface. COD removal after a 28-day period was about 45%. The remarkably low pH values as well as the fouling of Nafion membrane very likely limited TMFC performances. However, a scale-up estimation of our reactors provides interesting values in terms of power production, compared to actual anaerobic digestion plants. These results encourage further studies to characterize the graphite-based porous ceramic cathodes and to optimize the global TMFC performances, as they may provide a valid and sustainable alternative to anaerobic digestion technologies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543 - 550
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Energy
Publication statusPublished - 2017


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Energy(all)
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

Cite this

Jannelli, N., Anna Nastro, R., Cigolotti, V., Minutillo, M., & Falcucci, G. (2017). Low pH, high salinity: Too much for microbial fuel cells? Applied Energy, 192, 543 - 550. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2016.07.079