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Bioelectrochemistry. 2010 Apr;78(1):39-43. doi: 10.1016/j.bioelechem.2009.05.005. Epub 2009 May 27.

Microbial electrolysis cell with a microbial biocathode.

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Wetsus, Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology, Agora 1, P.O. Box 1113, 8900 CC Leeuwarden, The Netherlands.


This study demonstrates, for the first time, the proof-of-principle of an MEC in which both the anodic and cathodic reaction are catalyzed by microorganisms. No expensive chemical catalysts, such as platinum, are needed. Two of these MECs were simultaneously operated and reached a maximum of 1.4 A/m(2) at an applied cell voltage of 0.5 V. At a cathode potential of -0.7 V, the biocathode in the MECs had a higher current density (MEC 1: 1.9 A/m(2), MEC 2: 3.3 A/m(2)) than a control cathode (0.3 A/m(2), graphite felt without biofilm) in an electrochemical half cell. This indicates that hydrogen production is catalyzed at the biocathode, likely by electrochemically active microorganisms. The cathodic hydrogen recovery was 17% for MEC 1 and 21% for MEC 2. Hydrogen losses were ascribed to diffusion through membrane and tubing, and methane formation. After 1600 h of operation, the current density of the MECs had decreased to 0.6 A/m(2), probably caused by precipitation of calcium phosphate on the biocathode. The slow deteriorating effect of calcium phosphate, and the production of methane show the importance of studying the combination of bioanode and biocathode in one electrochemical cell, and of studying long term performance of such an MEC.

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