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Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Oct 15;42(20):7643-8.

Scaling up microbial fuel cells.

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School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, Center for Environmental, Sediment, Aquatic Research, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99163-2710, USA.


The goal of this study was to quantify the relation between the surface area of the current-limiting electrode of a microbial fuel cell (MFC) and the power density generated by the MFC. Shewanella oneidensis (MR-1) was grown anaerobically in the anodic compartment of an MFC utilizing lactate as the electron donor. Graphite plate electrodes of various sizes were used as anodes. Commercially available air electrodes, composed of manganese-based catalyzed carbon bonded to a current-collecting screen made of platinum mesh, were used as cathodes, and dissolved oxygen was used as the cathodic reactant. The surface area of the cathode was always significantly larger than that of the anode, to ensure that the anode was the current-limiting electrode. The power density generated by the MFC decreased as the surface area of the anode increased, which fits well with the trend we detected comparing various published results. Thus, our findings bring into question the assertion that the overall power density generated by an MFC with large electrodes can be estimated by extrapolating from an electrode with a small surface area. Our results indicate that the maximum power density generated by an MFC is not directly proportional to the surface area of the anode, but is instead proportional to the logarithm of the surface area of the anode.

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