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Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Dec 15;44(24):9578-83. doi: 10.1021/es1025646. Epub 2010 Nov 15.

Microbial electrodialysis cell for simultaneous water desalination and hydrogen gas production.

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Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, United States.


A new approach to water desalination is to use exoelectrogenic bacteria to generate electrical power from the biodegradation of organic matter, moving charged ions from a middle chamber between two membranes in a type of microbial fuel cell called a microbial desalination cell. Desalination efficiency using this approach is limited by the voltage produced by the bacteria. Here we examine an alternative strategy based on boosting the voltage produced by the bacteria to achieve hydrogen gas evolution from the cathode using a three-chambered system we refer to as a microbial electrodialysis cell (MEDC). We examined the use of the MEDC process using two different initial NaCl concentrations of 5 g/L and 20 g/L. Conductivity in the desalination chamber was reduced by up to 68 ± 3% in a single fed-batch cycle, with electrical energy efficiencies reaching 231 ± 59%, and maximum hydrogen production rates of 0.16 ± 0.05 m(3) H(2)/m(3) d obtained at an applied voltage of 0.55 V. The advantage of this system compared to a microbial fuel cell approach is that the potentials between the electrodes can be better controlled, and the hydrogen gas that is produced can be used to recover energy to make the desalination process self-sustaining with respect to electrical power requirements.

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